Diverse progenitor cells preserve salivary gland ductal architecture after radiation-induced damage
The ductal system of the salivary gland has long been postulated to be resistant to radiation-induced damage, a common side effect incurred by head and neck cancer patients receiving radiotherapy. Yet, whether the ducts are capable of regenerating after genotoxic injury, or if damage to ductal cells induces lineage plasticity, as has been reported in other organ systems, remains unknown. Here, we show that two ductal progenitor populations, marked exclusively by KRT14 and KIT, maintain non-overlapping ductal compartments after radiation exposure but do so through distinct cellular mechanisms. KRT14+ progenitor cells are fast cycling cells that proliferate in response to radiation-induced damage in a sustained manner and divide asymmetrically to produce differentiated cells of the larger granulated ducts. Conversely, KIT+ intercalated duct cells are long-lived progenitors for the intercalated ducts that undergo few cell divisions either during homeostasis or after gamma radiation, thus maintaining ductal architecture with slow rates of cell turnover. Together, these data illustrate the regenerative capacity of the salivary ducts and highlight the heterogeneity in the damage responses used by salivary progenitor cells to maintain tissue architecture.