Elusive Pancreatic Progenitor Cells Found in Mice

If the finding made in mice holds for humans, the newfound progenitor cells may represent “an obvious target for therapeutic regeneration of beta cells in diabetes,” the researchers report.

“One of the most interesting characteristics of these [adult] progenitor cells is that they are almost indistinguishable from embryonic progenitor cells,” said Harry Heimberg at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Center at Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium and the Beta Cell Biology Consortium.

Previous studies have suggested the existence of a beta cell progenitor in the pancreas after birth, but the identification and characterization of the progenitor cell has not been fully achieved. Other studies showing that replication of adult beta cells can account for beta cell turnover and expansion of beta cells under normal physiologic conditions and called into question the role or existence of a progenitor cell in regeneration.

In the new study, Heimberg’s team tied off a duct that drains digestive enzymes from the pancreas, a manipulation that led to a doubling of beta cell mass in the injured part of the pancreas within two weeks. The animals’ pancreases also began producing more insulin, evidence that the new beta cells were fully functional. Using a genetic labeling technique, the researchers found that the new beta cells were derived from precursor cells that expressed a gene expressed in embryonic progenitor cells called Neurogenin 3 (Ngn3) and that production of the new beta cells depended on activity of this gene. He suspects the regenerative process is sparked by an inflammatory response in the enzyme-flooded pancreas.

“The most important challenge now is to extrapolate our findings to patients with diabetes,” Heimberg reported.

MEDICA.de; Source: Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International