Sjogren’s Syndrome: Dry Mouth and Dry Eye

Dr. Driss ZoukhriThe division is known for its research on Sjögren’s syndrome which is either a primary disorder or in association with other rheumatic disorders, Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that affects between 1 and 4 million people in the United States, with a nine times greater incidence in women than in men. It is characterized by a sicca complex of decreased tears and saliva, burning mouth and the involvement of other organs and systems in the body.

Sjögren’s syndrome is a disease that attacks the body’s moisture-producing glands and thereby causing tooth decay, gum disease and other problems. Our research activities include the identification of biomarkers for the disease, research on the effect of Omega-3 fatty acids on salivation, assessment of cognitive dysfunction associated with Sjögren’s Syndrome and numerous FDA trials on potential therapeutic interventions.

Visit the Dry Mouth Clinic website

Clinical Trial Participation

The division frequently recruits individuals for participation in its clinical trials. Depending on the trial, participants may receive a stipend, free dental cleanings or exams, gift certificates or other incentives. To learn about current trials, call 617-636-3931

Oral Medicine Clinic Appointments

(617) 636-3932

Dry Eye and Dry Mouth Research Laboratory

Research Synopsis

Sjögren’s syndrome, a systemic inflammatory autoimmune disease which affects approximately 2-4 million American, mostly women, is the leading cause of aqueous-deficient dry eye and dry mouth syndromes. In Sjögren’s syndrome, cells of the immune system attack and destroy lacrimal and salivary gland acinar cells (the secretory cells), either directly or through the production of proinflammatory cytokines. To date, the mechanisms leading to acinar cell loss and the associated decline in lacrimal and salivary gland secretions leading to dry eye and dry mouth symptoms are still poorly understood.

Previous research from this laboratory investigated why the remaining acinar cells are not able to support normal exocrine functions during inflammation. The evidence gathered so far points to a pivotal role of proinflammatory cytokines, especially interleukin-1 (IL-1), in the impaired function of the lacrimal gland associated with inflammation. Specifically, it was found that IL-1 has a dual target in the lacrimal gland: the nerve endings (i.e., inhibition of neurotransmitter release) and the epithelial cells (i.e., inhibition of agonist-induced secretion) leading to insufficient secretion and symptoms of dry eye.

Recently, they discovered that murine lacrimal gland is capable of repair following experimentally-induced inflammation (i.e., injury). They have evidence that inflammation results in loss of lacrimal gland acinar cells through programmed cell death, namely apoptosis and autophagy. They also found that during the repair phase, stem/progenitor cells in the lacrimal gland are mobilized and induced to proliferate. Furthermore, they have recently been able to isolate and propagate in vitro, stem/progenitor cells from injured lacrimal glands.

Ongoing research in this laboratory aims to:

  • Elucidate the causes of insufficient production of tears and saliva with special emphasis on the autoimmune disease Sjögren’s syndrome
  • Identify and characterize salivary biomarkers for the early diagnosis of Sjögren’s syndrome
  • Investigate the regenerative capacity of the lacrimal and salivary glands following experimentally induced injury
  • Study the role of stem/progenitor cells in repair of the lacrimal and salivary glands
  • Use silk-based scaffolds and mesenchymal stem cells to engineer an implantable fluid-secreting device