Experiments have been carried out to examine the submandibular glands in mice with hereditary muscular dystrophy. Radioimmunoassay data confirm biological studies which show that submandibular glands in mice with muscular dystrophy contain less nerve growth factor (NGF) than glands of normal animals. Male dystrophics have half as much submandibular NGF as unafflicted mice, while females have only 10% of control levels. Gel filtration and electrophoretic studies detect no differences in the molecular properties of NGF in gland extracts from normal and dystrophic mice. Furthermore, NGF from both sources show equal activity in the sensory ganglion bioassay. Together, these results suggest that NGF deficits in submandibular glands of dystrophic mice are not due to measurement artifacts arising from alterations in the structure of the molecule.
Morphological studies have uncovered a cytological basis for chemical deficits within submandibular glands of dystrophic mice. Stereological analysis of light and electron microscopic sections revealed that growth factor containing granular tubule cells (GTC) take up a smaller portion of the total gland volume, are smaller in size, and contain fewer secretory granules than comparable cells in glands from controls. Furthermore, the ultrastructure of GTC in dystrophic animals suggests that the cells are less active in producing secretory protein than GTC in glands from normal animals. These results are consistent with the idea that growth factor deficits arise from cellular abnormalities in the granular tubule segment of the gland.