Nerve growth factor (NGF) and its different precursor forms are secreted into human saliva by salivary glands and are also produced by an array of cells in the tissues of the oral cavity. The major forms of NGF in human saliva are forms of pro-nerve growth factor (pro-NGF) and not mature NGF. The NGF receptors tropomyosin-related kinase A (TrkA) and p75 neurotrophin receptor (p75NTR) are widely expressed on cells in the soft tissues of the human oral cavity, including keratinocytes, endothelial cells, fibroblasts and leukocytes, and in ductal and acinar cells of all types of salivary glands. In vitro models show that NGF can contribute at most stages in the oral wound healing process: restitution, cell survival, apoptosis, cellular proliferation, inflammation, angiogenesis and tissue remodeling. NGF may therefore take part in the effective wound healing in the oral cavity that occurs with little scarring. As pro-NGF forms appear to be the major form of NGF in human saliva, efforts should be made to study its function, specifically in the process of wound healing. In addition, animal and clinical studies should be initiated to examine if topical application of pro-NGF or NGF can be a therapy for chronic oral ulcerations and wounds.
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