OBJECTIVE: One aim of the present study was to investigate whether symptoms of oral dryness (xerostomia) during daytime, assessed in a study group of middle-aged male positive and negative outliers in cognition scores, were associated with age-related degenerative changes in human labial salivary glands and with quantitative measures of the glandular autonomic innervation. Another aim was to study the relation between the autonomic innervation and loss of secretory acinar cells in these glands. METHODS: Labial salivary gland biopsies were taken from the lower lip from 190 men, born in 1953 and members of the Danish Metropolit birth cohort, who were examined for age-related changes in cognitive function and dental health as part of the Copenhagen University Center for Healthy Aging clinical neuroscience project. The glands were routinely processed and semi-quantitatively analyzed for inflammation, acinar atrophy, fibrosis, and adipocyte infiltration. Sections of labial salivary gland tissue were stained with the panneuronal marker PGP 9.5. In a subsample of 51 participants, the autonomic innervation of the glands was analyzed quantitatively by use of stereology. RESULTS: Labial salivary gland tissue samples from 33% of all participants displayed moderate to severe acinar atrophy and fibrosis (31%). Xerostomia was not significantly associated with structural changes of labial salivary glands, but in the subsample it was inversely related to the total nerve length in the glandular connective tissue. Acinar atrophy and fibrosis were negatively correlated with the parenchymal innervation and positively related to diffuse inflammation. CONCLUSIONS: The results from the present study indicate that aspects of the autonomic innervation of labial salivary glands may play a role in the occurrence of xerostomia which in the present study group was not significantly associated with degenerative changes in these glands. The findings further indicate that the integrity of labial salivary gland acini is related to the parenchymal autonomic innervation, whereas inflammatory processes may compromise it by alternative mechanisms.
Experimental Gerontology, 2014, Vol 57, Issue September, p. 211-217