Development of the Endocrine and Exocrine Pancreas

  • L. Charles Murtaugh
  • Jared Cassiano
  • Jean-Paul De La O
Part of the M. D. Anderson Solid Tumor Oncology Series book series (MDA)

Is the field of pancreas developmental biology relevant to human disease? An affirmative answer is certainly given by proponents of “regenerative medicine,” which aims to treat disease through stem cell transplantation, tissue engineering and similar interventions. Type I diabetes, in which insulin-producing β cells are lost to autoimmunity, is regarded as a test case for cell-based therapies, and a major goal of research into pancreas development is to translate an understanding of β-cell development into an approach to generating such cells de novo (1). Pancreas developmental biologists are increasingly aware that their insights might also apply to pancreatic cancer research, particularly as regards the cellular and molecular origins of the disease. The cell type from which pancreatic cancer arises remains unknown, but may be discovered through the use of experimental paradigms and reagents appropriated from embryology (2). In addition, tumorigenesis in the pancreas appears to be accompanied by reactivation of signaling systems normally active in the developing organ, such as the Notch pathway (ref. 3, and see following discussion). We therefore hope that understanding what goes right in pancreas development will shed light on what goes wrong in neoplasia.

This chapter briefly surveys the current understanding of pancreas development. We recommend several excellent reviews, recent and classic, for a more comprehensive view ( 47 ). Our focus is on embryonic pancreas development: How do specific regions of the developing gut assume a pancreatic identity, what controls growth and morphogenesis of the organ, and how do cells differentiate into specific mature cell types? In rodents, generation of new endocrine and exocrine cells—barring injury or disease—occurs predominantly prenatally, and further growth of the pancreas appears to rely on division of differentiated cells, rather than recruitment of dedicated stem cells ( 8, 9, and see the chapter by Jensen et al. in this volume). Toward the end of this chapter, however, we briefly review the pathologic phenomenon of metaplasia, when differentiated cells of the adult appear to relax their normal discipline and resume embryonic-like behavior.


Acinar Cell Exocrine Pancreas Notch Pathway Secondary Transition Pancreas Development 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • L. Charles Murtaugh
    • 1
  • Jared Cassiano
    • 1
  • Jean-Paul De La O
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Human GeneticsUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

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