Activation of epithelial and myoepithelial cells in the salivary glands of patients with Sjögren's syndrome: high expression of intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM.1) in biopsy specimens and cultured cells


Dr M.N. Manoussakis, Dpt. of Pathophysiology, School of Medicine, National University of Athens, Mikras Asias 75, Athens 11527, Hellas.  E-mail:


ICAM.1 (CD54) is a surface protein expressed on epithelial and other nonhematopoietic cells upon activation and is known to play an important role in the stimulation of T cells by the provision of cellular adhesion and costimulatory support. Sjogren's syndrome (SS) is an autoimmune exocrinopathy, which is characterized by chronic lymphocytic infiltration of exocrine glands and aberrant activation of epithelial tissues. To address the contribution of ICAM.1 in the pathogenesis of SS, the expression of this protein was studied by immunohistochemistry and flow cytometry in minor salivary gland (SG) biopsies as well as in cultured SG epithelial cell (SGEC) lines obtained from 18 SS patients and 16 controls. In biopsies from SS patients (but not controls), strong ICAM.1 was expressed by infiltrating mononuclear cells (52%) and by a significant proportion of periacinar myoepithelial cells (18%). In addition, a patchy pattern of moderate ICAM.1 expression was detected in 31% of ductal epithelia of SS patients. These ICAM.1-expressing epithelial and myoepithelial cells were observed throughout glandular tissues and were not confined in areas proximal to lymphoid infiltrates. In support to an intrinsic activation profile of SGEC in SS, long-term cultured non-neoplastic SGEC lines derived from SS patients displayed significantly upregulated spontaneous expression of ICAM.1, compared to controls (P < 0.05). The high expression of ICAM.1 protein by the salivary epithelium of SS patients is likely suggestive of its important role in the pathogenesis of the disorder. Further, our results support a model of intrinsic activation of salivary epithelial and myoepithelial cells in SS, whereby these cells actively participate in the induction and maintenance of lymphocytic infiltrates of patients.