In a paper published by PDRC physician-scientist Maike Sander, M.D. and colleagues in the scientific journal Development, evidence shows that insulin-producing beta-cells are generated from a specialized precursor cell population - called pancreatic progenitors - in the embryo, but not after birth. This discovery helps explain why beta-cells, unlike skin or bone, do not regenerate independently during adulthood.
In experiments designed to reveal the fate of pancreatic progenitor cells, researchers from Dr. Sander's lab tracked the progeny of cells marked by their expression of a particular gene. During the embryonic development, pancreatic progenitor cells produced multiple types of cells in the pancreas, including beta-cells. In adulthood, however, cells no longer produced beta-cells. Further, in experiments where the pancreas was injured in mice by a process called partial duct ligation, the beta-cell regeneration process began but did not fully progress to the generation of mature, functional beta-cells.
Along with helping to understand the uniqueness of beta-cells, the findings provide a foundation for future investigations into methods for prompting beta-cell regeneration.
"Sox9+ ductal cells are multipotent progenitors throughout development but do not produce new endocrine cells in the normal or injured adult pancreas."
Kopp JL, Dubois CL, Schaffer AE, Hao E, Shih HP, Seymour PA, Ma J, Sander M.
Development. 2011 Feb;138(4):653-65.