Researchers from Kyoto University in Japan worked on mice with depleted Pdx1 gene, which in the pancreas is exclusively found in exocrine tissue.
The result was underdeveloped pancreas, but in addition, the mice showed diabetes phenotype, such as low insulin levels, suggesting endocrine development was also affected.
“The pancreas is constituted of two tissues that are structurally and functionally distinct, which makes it unique,” said Yoshiya Kawaguchi from Kyoto University.
While the exocrine and endocrine tissues operate independently in mature pancreas, they are formed at the same time during pancreas development.
Endocrine progenitor cells that did not have the mutation in the mutant mice also showed poor survival, researchers said.
The results suggest non-cell autonomous effects, which describes the phenomenon where cells with genetic defects may cause malfunction in neighbouring, genetically healthy cells, and could have important implications for diabetes treatment.
Diabetes is a disease where the body is not receiving a sufficient supply of insulin. It commonly inflicts the pancreas, the organ responsible for insulin production.
More specifically, it inflicts the cells that produce insulin, which are found in the endocrine tissue of the pancreas.
However the results suggest that the exocrine tissue, which is responsible for digestion, could have a role in treatment.
“It means the exocrine cells secrete something that promotes the differentiation and survival of endocrine cells during development,” said Kawaguchi.
The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.