Radiotherapy for head and neck cancer is associated with impairment of salivary gland function and consequent xerostomia, which has a devastating effect on the quality of life of the patients. The mechanism of radiation-induced salivary gland damage is not completely understood. Cellular senescence is a permanent state of cell cycle arrest accompanied by a secretory phenotype which contributes to inflammation and tissue deterioration. Genotoxic stresses, including radiation-induced DNA damage, are known to induce a senescence response. Here, we show that radiation induces cellular senescence preferentially in the salivary gland stem/progenitor cell niche of mouse models and patients. Similarly, salivary gland-derived organoids show increased expression of senescence markers and pro-inflammatory senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP) factors after radiation exposure. Clearance of senescent cells by selective removal of p16Ink4a-positive cells by the drug ganciclovir or the senolytic drug ABT263 lead to increased stem cell self-renewal capacity as measured by organoid formation efficiency. Additionally, pharmacological treatment with ABT263 in mice irradiated to the salivary glands mitigates tissue degeneration, thus preserving salivation. Our data suggest that senescence in the salivary gland stem/progenitor cell niche contributes to radiation-induced hyposalivation. Pharmacological targeting of senescent cells may represent a therapeutic strategy to prevent radiotherapy-induced xerostomia.
- HEMATOPOIETIC STEM-CELLS
- EX-VIVO EXPANSION