The current standard of care for head and neck cancer includes surgical resection of the tumor followed by targeted head and neck radiation. This radiotherapy results in a multitude of negative side effects in adjacent normal tissues. Autophagy is a cellular mechanism that could be targeted to ameliorate these side effects based on its role in cellular homeostasis. In this study, we utilized Atg5 f/f;Aqp5-Cre mice which harbor a conditional knockout of Atg5, in salivary acinar cells. These autophagy-deficient mice display increased radiosensitivity. Treatment of wild-type mice with radiation did not robustly induce autophagy following radiotherapy, however, using a model of preserved salivary gland function by IGF-1-treatment prior to irradiation, we demonstrate increased autophagosome formation 6-8 hours following radiation. Additionally, administration of IGF-1 to Atg5 f/f;Aqp5-Cre mice did not preserve physiological function. Thus, autophagy appears to play a beneficial role in salivary glands following radiation and pharmacological induction of autophagy could alleviate the negative side effects associated with therapy for head and neck cancer.
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