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Transplantation. 1999 Dec 15;68(11):1674-83.

Differentiation and maturation of porcine fetal islet cells in vitro and after transplantation.

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Transplantation Laboratory, Haartman Institute, Hospital for Children and Adolescents, University of Helsinki, Finland.



Porcine fetal pancreas is a potential source of beta cells for transplantation. The immaturity of the cells is a problem. We have defined the optimal conditions for in vitro propagation of this tissue before transplantation.


Porcine fetal pancreas tissue was obtained for tissue culture at various stages of development. Serum-containing and serum-free media and a variety of potential differentiation factors were tested. In vitro, the numbers of endocrine islet cells and their proliferation were quantified and functional maturity of the beta cells was assessed by perifusion. Growth and maturation of the cells was assessed 3 months after transplantation into nude mice.


Highest beta cell mass was obtained from end-gestational, as compared with early fetal or neonatal, pancreas. Nicotinamide and sodium butyrate effectively increased the insulin content and the number of endocrine cells in culture. In combination, these factors led up to a 90-fold increase in the insulin content of islet-like cell clusters (ICC) as compared with untreated controls. However, a high level of cell death through apoptosis was observed in these maximally stimulated endocrine cells, and they did not survive as grafts when transplanted into nude mice. Instead, a serum-free culture medium containing 10 mM nicotinamide and 0.1 mM isobutylmethylxanthine was found to support both differentiation and proliferation of endocrine cells as loose ICCs. Insulin release from these ICCs was sensitive to glucose. When transplanted under the kidney capsule of normoglycemic nude mice, a high level of beta cell differentiation and function was evident only in the ICCs cultured in the serum-free medium, and in freshly isolated ICCs. When transplanted to hyperglycemic nude recipients, the cells cultured in serum-free medium for 3 weeks reversed hyperglycemia more consistently and rapidly than freshly isolated ICCs.


Optimal maturation of porcine fetal pancreatic cells is obtained in serum-free medium supplemented with nicotinamide. Butyrate is a potent stimulus for beta cell differentiation but leads to increased apoptotic cell death.

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