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Dev Dyn. 1992 Jun;194(2):142-54.

Colonization of the developing pancreas by neural precursors from the bowel.

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Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, New York 10032.


Neurons in ganglia of the myenteric plexus of the duodenum and stomach have recently been demonstrated to innervate pancreatic ganglia and transsynaptically to excite acinar and islet cells. The hypothesis that crest-derived cells first colonize the foregut and secondarily enter the pancreas by way of the pancreatic buds was tested. Studies were done with fetal rats (days E11-E15). Pancreatic rudiments and foregut were explanted separately and in co-culture. The development of neurons in the explants, identified by demonstrating the immunoreactivities of neurofilaments and growth-associated protein-43 (GAP-43), provided an indirect assay for the presence of neural precursors in the tissue at the time of explantation. Cells of putative neural crest origin were visualized immunocytochemically using the monoclonal antibody, NC-1. Additional markers included the immunoreactivities of dopamine-beta-hydroxylase (DBH), which is expressed by vagal crest-derived cells that colonize the bowel, neuropeptides (substance P and neuropeptide Y [NPY]) found in mature pancreatic neurons, and serotonin (5-HT), which is located in the cell bodies of enteric but not pancreatic neurons. Neurons were detected in cultures of foregut, but not pancreas, when these tissues were explanted by themselves at days E11 and E12. At E11 neural precursors did not leave explants of bowel or migrate into co-cultured pancreatic rudiments. When the foregut was explanted at E12, however, neural precursors migrated away from the bowel, giving rise both to distant ganglia and to neurons within co-cultured pancreatic rudiments. Intrapancreatic ganglia developed in the co-cultures even when the pancreatic attachment to the bowel was severed. Neurons appeared in pancreatic rudiments explanted by themselves on day E13. Neurons developing in pancreatic explants expressed the immunoreactivities of DBH, substance P, and NPY, but not 5-HT. These observations support the idea that pancreatic ganglia develop from crest-derived cells that first colonize the fetal rat foregut and there acquire the ability to colonize the pancreas. A later migration into the pancreatic rudiments of a subset of the original émigrés or their progeny between days E12 and E13 gives rise to a network of pancreatic ganglia that can be regarded as an extension of the enteric nervous system.

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