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Cancer. 1990 Nov 15;66(10):2134-43.

Cell lineage markers in human pancreatic cancer.

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Gastrointestinal Research Laboratory, VA Medical Center, San Francisco, CA 94121.


The normal pancreas consists of three major cell types or lineages that share a common embryologic origin from pluripotent endodermal precursors. The type of cell that undergoes neoplastic transformation to form a pancreatic carcinoma is controversial and may influence the phenotype and biologic behavior of the tumor. In this study, immunohistologic techniques were used to determine the cell lineage differentiation expressed in 29 primary exocrine pancreatic adenocarcinomas, five metastatic exocrine pancreatic adenocarcinomas, and five islet cell neoplasma. Specimens of normal pancreas and chronic pancreatitis were used for comparison. The cell lineage markers consisted of monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies against trypsin and lipase (acinar cells); secretory component, carbonic anhydrase II, and pancreatic cancer mucin SPan-1 (ductal cells); and chromogranin-A and somatostatin (islet cells). The expression of carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) and lysozyme were also determined. This collection of markers allowed the differentiation between acinar, ductal, and islet cells of normal pancreas and chronic pancreatitis specimens. The expression of cell lineage markers in islet cell tumors was homogeneous and restricted to chromogranin-A. In contrast, the expression of these markers in primary and metastatic exocrine pancreatic adenocarcinomas was variable. Reactivity with monoclonal anti-CEA was absent in normal pancreas, and was present in 83% of chronic pancreatitis specimens as well as 90% of exocrine pancreatic adenocarcinomas. In addition, lysozyme reactivity was absent in normal pancreas; however, lysozyme was expressed in one case of chronic pancreatitis, 17 cases of primary carcinoma, and three cases of metastatic carcinoma. These findings support the concept that the original transformed cell type in many pancreatic exocrine carcinomas resemble endodermal "stem cells" that retain the capability of differentiation along more than one cell lineage pathway.

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