PerspectiveDevelopmental Biology

Branching Takes Nerve

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Science  24 Sep 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5999, pp. 1610-1611
DOI: 10.1126/science.1196016

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Nerves control salivary gland function, a connection that traces back over 100 years to the classic experiments of Ivan Pavlov, who conditioned dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. On page 1645 in this issue, Knox et al. report that the effect of nerves on these glands occurs much earlier than expected (1). Local nerves make intimate contact with the submandibular glands—the major source of saliva in mammals—as soon they begin to develop in the embryo, and influence how the organ grows and branches. Their finding may suggest new ways to regenerate salivary glands in cancer patients exposed to head and neck irradiation, and may also be relevant to the growth and regeneration of other organ systems.