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Am J Physiol. 1999 Apr;276(4):G835-42. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.1999.276.4.G835.

Secretagogue-induced digestive enzyme activation and cell injury in rat pancreatic acini.

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Department of Surgery, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Digestive Diseases Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA.


The mechanisms responsible for intrapancreatic digestive enzyme activation as well as the relationship between that activation and cell injury during pancreatitis are not understood. We have employed an in vitro system in which freshly prepared pancreatic acini are exposed to a supramaximally stimulating concentration of the CCK analog caerulein to explore these issues. We find that in vitro trypsinogen activation depends on the continued presence of Ca2+ in the suspending medium and that it is half-maximal in the presence of 0.3 mM Ca2+. Caerulein-induced trypsinogen activation can be halted by removal of Ca2+ from the suspending medium or by chelation of intracellular Ca2+. Increasing intracellular Ca2+ with either ionomycin or thapsigargin does not induce trypsinogen activation. We have monitored cell injury by measuring the leakage of lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) from acini and by quantitating intercalation of propidium iodide (PI) into DNA. Leakage of LDH and intercalation of PI in response to supramaximal stimulation with caerulein can be detected only after caerulein-induced trypsinogen activation has already occurred, and these indications of cell injury can be prevented by addition of a cell-permeant protease inhibitor. Our findings indicate that caerulein-induced intra-acinar cell activation of trypsinogen depends on a rise in intracellular Ca2+, which reflects entry of Ca2+ from the suspending medium. Intra-acinar cell activation of trypsinogen is an early as well as a critical event in pancreatitis. The subsequent cell injury in this model is mediated by activated proteases.

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