The pancreas contains cells that produce a number of different hormones that control the amount of glucose that is in our blood, including beta cells, which produce insulin, and alpha cells, which produce glucagon. Type I diabetes is caused by a loss of, or relative deficiency of, beta cells. Therefore, determining ways in which to renew the number of beta cells in the pancreas is an area of intensive research.
Previous studies have suggested that beta cells can be generated from acinar cells in the pancreas, whose abundance makes them an ideal cell from which to generate other cell types.
However, in a study that appears in the April issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Doris Stoffers and colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, trace the lineage of beta cells and show that beta cells do not arise from acinar cells. Instead, they found that acinar cells gave rise to more acinar cells.
By contrast, in a second study appearing in the April issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Ahmed Mansouri and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Germany, show that beta cells can be reprogrammed to become alpha cells or PP cells if they are engineered to express a protein known as ARX. These distinct observations are discussed in the accompanying commentary by Jose Ferrer and colleagues.
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