Preservation of the rat parotid gland function after radiation by prophylactic pilocarpine treatment: Radiation dose dependency and compensatory mechanisms

JM Roesink, AWT Konings, CHJ Terhaard, JJ Battermann, HH Kampinga, RP Coppes*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: To study the ability of a prophylactic pilocarpine administration to preserve the rat parotid gland function after unilateral irradiation with graded doses of X-rays.

Methods: The right parotid gland of male albino Wistar rats was irradiated with single doses of X-rays (10-30 Gy, at 1.5 Gy min(-1)). Pilocarpine (4 mg/kg) was administered intraperitoneally, 1 hour prior to irradiation. Saliva samples of both left and right parotid gland were collected by means of miniaturized Lashley cups 4 days before and 3, 7, 10, and 30 days after irradiation. The parotid salivary flow rate (mu l/min) was used as a parameter for the assessment of parotid gland function.

Results: Our data confirm that a single prophylactic treatment of pilocarpine can attenuate radiation-induced loss of gland function. Surprisingly, the effect of pilocarpine was not restricted to the irradiated gland only. Pilocarpine also enhanced the how rate in the contralateral, nonirradiated gland. The latter effect was found for all doses above 10 Gy and became apparent around 7 days after the radiation treatment. The effectiveness of pilocarpine to attenuate function loss in the irradiated gland decreased with increasing dose and was lost after single doses of 30 Gy.

Conclusions: Our data provide direct evidence that increasing the compensatory potential of the nondamaged gland, at least in part, underlies the "radioprotective effect" of pilocarpine in case of unilateral radiation. The ability of pilocarpine to ameliorate the early radiation-induced impairment of the parotid gland function in the irradiated gland may therefore be dependent on the remaining number of functional cells, and thus on the volume of the gland that lies within the radiation portal. (C) 1999 Elsevier Science Inc.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)483-489
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1-Sep-1999


  • salivary gland
  • unilateral irradiation
  • pilocarpine
  • xerostomia
  • HEAD

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