To investigate whether secretory granules play a role in the radiosensitivity of the salivary glands of rats, parotid acinar cells, submandibular acinar cells and/or submandibular granular convoluted tubule (GCT) cells were degranulated prior to irradiation. Degranulation of GCT cells was obtained by pretreatment with phenylephrine (5 mg/kg, t = -60 min) and methacholine (3.75 mg/kg, t = -120 min). Degranulation of acinar cells was attained by pretreatment with isoproterenol (5 mg/kg, t = -90 min). Combinations of pretreatments were also tested. Irradiation was performed with a single dose of 15 Gy of X rays. Samples of parotid and submandibular/sublingual saliva were collected 4 days prior to and 1, 3, 6, 10 and 30 days after irradiation. Pretreatment with phenylephrine, isoproterenol and methacholine plus phenylephrine resulted in less radiation damage to parotid gland function as indicated by the lag phase and flow rate. Since the pretreatment with phenylephrine and phenylephrine plus methacholine did not degranulate parotid gland acinar cells, the observed protective effect on this gland cannot be explained by the "degranulation concept." Furthermore, salivary gland function was significantly greater 3 days after irradiation as a result of pretreatment with phenylephrine and phenylephrine plus methacholine compared to rats given only radiation. This may indicate recovery from damage rather than a reduced amount of initial damage. The sparing was most obvious for the later effects (6-30 days). Submandibular/sublingual gland function was improved significantly after pretreatment with methacholine plus phenylephrine, although no increase in degranulation of GCT cells was observed compared to pretreatment with phenylephrine alone, again not favoring the degranulation concept. The results indicate that the secretory granules do not play the often-assumed important role in the radiosensitivity of the salivary gland. The mechanism underlying the observed improvement of salivary gland function may involve second messenger-induced increases in proliferation of salivary gland cells resulting in recovery of tissue after the irradiation.

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