Transient Activation of the Hedgehog-Gli Pathway Rescues Radiotherapy-Induced Dry Mouth via Recovering Salivary Gland Resident Macrophages.
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Irreversible hypofunction of salivary glands is a common side effect of radiotherapy for head and neck cancer and is difficult to remedy. Recent studies indicate that transient activation of Hedgehog signaling rescues irradiation-impaired salivary function in animal models, but the underlying mechanisms are largely unclear. Here, we show in mice that activation of canonical Gli-dependent Hedgehog signaling by Gli1 gene transfer is sufficient to recover salivary function impaired by irradiation. Salivary gland cells responsive to Hedgehog/Gli signaling comprised small subsets of macrophages, epithelial cells, and endothelial cells, and their progeny remained relatively rare long after irradiation and transient Hedgehog activation. Quantities and activities of salivary gland resident macrophages were substantially and rapidly impaired by irradiation and restored by Hedgehog activation. Conversely, depletion of salivary gland macrophages by clodronate liposomes compromised the restoration of irradiation-impaired salivary function by transient Hedgehog activation. Single-cell RNA sequencing and qRT-PCR of sorted cells indicated that Hedgehog activation greatly enhances paracrine interactions between salivary gland resident macrophages, epithelial progenitors, and endothelial cells through Csf1, Hgf, and C1q signaling pathways. Consistently, expression of these paracrine factors and their receptors in salivary glands decreased following irradiation but were restored by transient Hedgehog activation. These findings reveal that resident macrophages and their prorepair paracrine factors are essential for the rescue of irradiation-impaired salivary function by transient Hedgehog activation and are promising therapeutic targets of radiotherapy-induced irreversible dry mouth. SIGNIFICANCE: These findings illuminate a novel direction for developing effective treatment of irreversible dry mouth, which is common after radiotherapy for head and neck cancer and for which no effective treatments are available. GRAPHICAL ABSTRACT: http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/canres/80/24/5531/F1.large.jpg.See related commentary by Coppes, p. 5462.