Acinar cells in the neonatal pancreas grow by self-duplication and not by neogenesis from duct cells

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Isabelle Houbracken & Luc Bouwens

Houbracken, I. and Bouwens, L. (2017) Acinar cells in the neonatal pancreas grow by self-duplication and not by neogenesis from duct cellsScientific Reports 7, Article number: 12643. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-12721-9.


Pancreatic acinar cells secrete digestive enzymes necessary for nutrient digestion in the intestine. They are considered the initiating cell type of pancreatic cancer and are endowed with differentiation plasticity that has been harnessed to regenerate endocrine beta cells. However, there is still uncertainty about the mechanisms of acinar cell formation during the dynamic period of early postnatal development. To unravel cellular contributions in the exocrine acinar development we studied two reporter mouse strains to trace the fate of acinar and duct cells during the first 4 weeks of life. In the acinar reporter mice, the labelling index of acinar cells remained unchanged during the neonatal pancreas growth period, evidencing that acinar cells are formed by self-duplication. In line with this, duct cell tracing did not show significant increase in acinar cell labelling, excluding duct-to-acinar cell contribution during neonatal development. Immunohistochemical analysis confirms massive levels of acinar cell proliferation in this early period of life. Further, also increase in acinar cell size contributes to the growth of pancreatic mass.We conclude that the growth of acinar cells during physiological neonatal pancreas development is by self-duplication (and hypertrophy) rather than neogenesis from progenitor cells as was suggested before.

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Scientific reports - Nature