Diversity of cell lineages within glandular organs is generated postnatally by differentiation of committed progenitor cells. Fundamental regulatory aspects of this process are not understood. The mouse submandibular salivary gland (SSG) served as model to assess the role of epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor signaling during emergence of cell lineage diversity. Temporal fluctuations in EGF receptor mRNA levels coincident with crucial differentiative cell lineage transitions were revealed by RNase protection analyses. Between days 2 and 5, when proacinar cells are maturing and striated duct cells emerge, EGF receptor mRNA levels were highest and all differentiating cells exhibited EGF receptor immunoreactivity. EGF receptor mRNA levels then declined sharply and immunoreactivity became confined to ductal cells. At day 11 in male mice, and days 11 and 16 in females, a second increase in EGF receptor mRNA was detected coincident with emergence of granular convoluted tubule (GCT) cells. With completion of androgen-dependent GCT cell differentiation at the onset of puberty, EGF receptor mRNA levels and intensity of immunoreactivity decreased. Androgen effects on EGF receptor mRNA or immunoreactivity could not be detected. These temporally distinct patterns of EGF receptor expression suggest that this signaling pathway is a mechanism of potential importance in emergence of cell lineage diversity in a glandular organ.

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