Salivary glands produce a bicarbonate-rich fluid containing digestive and protective proteins and other components to be delivered into the gastrointestinal tract. Its function is under strict control of the autonomic nervous system. Salivary electrolyte and fluid secretion are primarily controlled by parasympathetic activity, while protein secretion is primaily triggered by sympathetic stimulation. Stress activates the hypothalamic - pituitary - adrenal axis. The peripheral limb of this axis is the efferent sympathetic/adrenomedullary system. Stress reaction, even if it is sustained for long, does not cause obvious damage to salivary glands. However, stress induces dramatic changes in the constituents of secreted saliva. Since salivary protein secretion is strongly dependent on sympathetic control, changes in saliva can be utilized as sensitive stress indicators. Some of the secreted compounds are known for their protective effect in the mouth and the gut, while others may just pass through the glands from blood plasma because of their chemical nature and the presence of transcellular salivary transporting systems. Indeed, most compounds that appear in blood circulation can also be identified in saliva, although at different concentrations. This work overviews the presently recognized salivary stress biosensors, such as amylase, cortisol, heat shock proteins and other compounds. It also demonstrates that saliva is widely recognised as a diagnostic tool for early and sensitive discovery of salivary and systemic conditions and disorders. At present it may be too early to introduce most of these biomarkers in daily routine diagnostic applications, but advances in salivary biomarker standardisation should permit their wide-range utilization in the future including safe, reliable and non-invasive estimation of acute and chronic stress levels in patients.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Drug Discovery