I’m not good with anatomy, too squeamish; models fine, but start on tissues and organs and I’m feeling green. Blessed with no-nonsense stomachs, a group of scientists and maxillofacial surgeons in Amsterdam have described new pair of salivary glands which have been named the tubarial glands. The glands were identified using high resolution scanning techniques, positron emission tomography PET (which uses radioactive tracer dyes to watch the biochemical activity in tissues) and x-ray based CT scans . High tech scans aside, the glands proved to be actually visible to the naked eye, and their identity was confirmed by dissection. Definitely not a job for me.

The authors suggest the physiological function of the tubarial glands is the moistening and lubrication of the back of the nose and mouth (nasopharynx and oropharynx). In 723 cancer patients, the radiotherapy given to this area was associated with dry mouth and problems eating and speaking. Thus, avoiding this specific area in future could be bring a better outcome.

At this point, the function of the gland has not been determined. The dye used in the PET scans, “PSMA”, was taken up in a similar way to other salivary glands. But many other tissues act like this, and it does not specifically show the activity of a secretory gland, although the plumbing seems to be in place. The authors describe “multiple draining ducts”. Learning what stimulates these glands and their secretions will be fascinating, and could have an impact on saliva analysis.

This discussion has reminded me of the importance of swab location in the mouth when collecting saliva for biomarker analysis. Different glands, in different parts of the month secrete different markers and hormones which can skew analysis, and there maybe another to consider in future. (See the Salimetrics Saliva Collection handbook.)


Matthijs H. Valstar et al. The tubarial salivary glands: A potential new organ at risk for radiotherapy. Radiotherapy and Oncology, published online September 23, 2020; doi: 10.1016/j.radonc.2020.09.034