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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Mar 5;110(10):3907-12. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1301889110. Epub 2013 Feb 19.

Colony-forming cells in the adult mouse pancreas are expandable in Matrigel and form endocrine/acinar colonies in laminin hydrogel.

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Department of Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases Research, Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, Duarte, CA 91010, USA.


The study of hematopoietic colony-forming units using semisolid culture media has greatly advanced the knowledge of hematopoiesis. Here we report that similar methods can be used to study pancreatic colony-forming units. We have developed two pancreatic colony assays that enable quantitative and functional analyses of progenitor-like cells isolated from dissociated adult (2-4 mo old) murine pancreas. We find that a methylcellulose-based semisolid medium containing Matrigel allows growth of duct-like "Ring/Dense" colonies from a rare (∼1%) population of total pancreatic single cells. With the addition of roof plate-specific spondin 1, a wingless-int agonist, Ring/Dense colony-forming cells can be expanded more than 100,000-fold when serially dissociated and replated in the presence of Matrigel. When cells grown in Matrigel are then transferred to a Matrigel-free semisolid medium with a unique laminin-based hydrogel, some cells grow and differentiate into another type of colony, which we name "Endocrine/Acinar." These Endocrine/Acinar colonies are comprised mostly of endocrine- and acinar-like cells, as ascertained by RNA expression analysis, immunohistochemistry, and electron microscopy. Most Endocrine/Acinar colonies contain beta-like cells that secrete insulin/C-peptide in response to D-glucose and theophylline. These results demonstrate robust self-renewal and differentiation of adult Ring/Dense colony-forming units in vitro and suggest an approach to producing beta-like cells for cell replacement of type 1 diabetes. The methods described, which include microfluidic expression analysis of single cells and colonies, should also advance study of pancreas development and pancreatic progenitor cells.

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