Objectives: Salivary gland organogenesis was evaluated in NOD mice, an animal model for autoimmune exocrinopathy, to determine when disease onset is first present in the target tissues. Methods: Submandibular glands were removed for histological, immunohistochemical and biochemical evaluation from neonatal NOD and congenic strains as well as healthy control C57BL/6 mice. Results: Histomorphological analyses of neonatal submandibular glands, the primary target for autoimmune exocrinopathy at 1 day postpartum, revealed delayed morphological differentiation during organogenesis in autoimmune-susceptible NOD mice when compared to nonsusceptible C57BL/6 mice. Acinar cell proliferation was reduced, while expression of Fas, FasL and bcl-2 were increased. Acinar cell proliferation was reduced, while expression, of Fas, FasL and bcl-2 were increased. Throughout the preweaning period (21 days) submandibular glands from NOD and NOD congenic strains aberrantly expressed an increased matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-2 and MMP-9 activity. Substitution of two susceptibility alleles (Idd3 and Idd5) in NOD mice resulted in an hierarchical and additive reversal of delayed organogenesis, elevated MMP-9 activity, and aberrant expression of parotid secretory protein. Discussion: NOD-derived mice whose submandibular glands showed normal organogenesis did not progress to develop autoimmune exocrinopathy. Altered organogenesis of target tissue may therefore provide a cellular microenvironment capable of activating autoimmunity.

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