The atrophic effect of ligating the main duct of the right submandibular gland was examined in rat using a novel intraoral approach that did not include the chorda lingual (CL) nerve. Comparison was made with the effect of duct ligation including the attached CL nerve as carried out in previous studies. In all animals, the contralateral, unligated left submandibular gland was used as a control. At different times (1, 2, 7, 14 and 21 days) after ligation, glands were removed and weighed. Tissue was fixed for morphological analysis and homogenized for biochemical assay of secretory proteins. After 21 days, ligated glands showed a significant decrease in wet weight compared with unligated glands. Weight loss was the greatest (P < 0.05) in glands ligated with the CL nerve included. Light microscopy revealed that following ligation, an initial inflammatory reaction was followed by severe atrophy of acini and granular ducts. The atrophy was less severe when the CL nerve was not ligated. Secretory proteins were decreased from day 1 onwards following duct ligation in both groups. It can be concluded that most of the atrophy induced by duct ligation is independent of damage caused to the parasympathetic nerve supply, although the latter causes a greater atrophy presumably due to denervation.