One thousand faces of Langerhans islets

P.M. Pour MD, B.M. Schmied MD, A. Ulrich MD, M.B. Schneider MD, and J. Standop MD.

UNMC Eppley Institute, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE.

Studies with different strains of Syrian hamsters and Syrian golden hamsters have revealed the remarkable potential of islet cells to undergo orthotopic and heterotopic metaplasia. The most common spontaneous change included the development of hepatocytes in aged and malnourished hamsters. Of the many other alterations that occurred during carcinogenesis, most of the metaplastic changes originated within the islet periphery and progressed inside and outside the islets. The development of ductular structures within islets and their progression either to structures identical to human serous cystadenoma or to highly invasive adenocarcinomas were the most common alterations. The remarkably greater invasive potential of cancer cells arising within the islets contrasted sharply with the slow growth of the tumors developing within ducts (intraductal tumors). Studies in human tissue also showed development of malignant cells within islets, and, in some cases, transition of islet cells to malignant cells was suggested. The overall results, along with recent findings in other studies in cultured human and hamster islets, indicate the enormous potential of islet cells to differentiate and undergo malignant transformation. Whether the metaplastic and malignant cells derive from stem cells embedded within islets or from transdifferentiated islet cells remains to be seen.

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Paper presented at the International Symposium on Predictive Oncology and Intervention Strategies; Paris, France; February 9 - 12, 2002; in the section on Stem Cell Biology.