Abstract Rat submandibular gland can regenerate following ligation-induced atrophy, eventually recovering its normal morphology and function. Previous studies have suggested that the regeneration process implies both self-proliferation of existing acini and formation of new acinar cells. One hypothesis is that new acinar cells may differentiate from the ductal cells in a similar fashion to the process of cytodifferentiation occurring during submandibular glandular development. In this study atrophy was induced, under recovery anaesthesia, by applying a metal clip on the main duct of the submandibular gland without including the chorda lingual nerve. After 2 weeks the duct was deligated for 3, 5 or 7 days or 8 weeks and the glands collected. Tissue was prepared for immunohistochemstry, biochemical analysis and RNA extraction. The histology of the regenerated glands shows several normal-looking acini, which have regained their glycoprotein content (AB/PAS positive), data also confirmed by biochemical analysis (SDS-PAGE/PAS). Regenerating tissue was characterized by the presence of embryonic-like branched structures ending with AB/PAS positive acinar cells. The proteins SMG-B and PSP are normally expressed in acinar cell precursors during development but only by intercalated ductal cells in the adult stage. In the adult regenerating gland mRNA levels of both SMG-B and PSP were found to be up-regulated compared to ligated glands and SMG-B expression localized to acinar cells whilst the ductal cells were negative. This study of rat submandibular gland regeneration suggests new acinar cells have differentiated from ducts and express markers of acinar cell precursors in a similar manner to the cytodifferentiation process occurring during glandular development.