In primary Sjögren syndrome (pSS), the function of the salivary glands is often considerably reduced. Multiple innate immune pathways are likely dysregulated in the salivary gland epithelium in pSS, including the nuclear factor-κB pathway, the inflammasome and interferon signalling. The ductal cells of the salivary gland in pSS are characteristically surrounded by a CD4
T cell-rich and B cell-rich infiltrate, implying a degree of communication between epithelial cells and immune cells. B cell infiltrates within the ducts can initiate the development of lymphoepithelial lesions, including basal ductal cell hyperplasia. Vice versa, the epithelium provides chronic activation signals to the glandular B cell fraction. This continuous stimulation might ultimately drive the development of mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue lymphoma. This Review discusses changes in the cells of the salivary gland epithelium in pSS (including acinar, ductal and progenitor cells), and the proposed interplay of these cells with environmental stimuli and the immune system. Current therapeutic options are insufficient to address both lymphocytic infiltration and salivary gland dysfunction. Successful rescue of salivary gland function in pSS will probably demand a multimodal therapeutic approach and an appreciation of the complicity of the salivary gland epithelium in the development of pSS.