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J Cell Biol. 1998 Mar 23;140(6):1519-34.

KSA antigen Ep-CAM mediates cell-cell adhesion of pancreatic epithelial cells: morphoregulatory roles in pancreatic islet development.

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The Islet Research Laboratory at The Whittier Institute for Diabetes, Department of Pediatrics, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.


Cell adhesion molecules (CAMs) are important mediators of cell-cell interactions and regulate cell fate determination by influencing growth, differentiation, and organization within tissues. The human pancarcinoma antigen KSA is a glycoprotein of 40 kD originally identified as a marker of rapidly proliferating tumors of epithelial origin. Interestingly, most normal epithelia also express this antigen, although at lower levels, suggesting that a dynamic regulation of KSA may occur during cell growth and differentiation. Recently, evidence has been provided that this glycoprotein may function as an epithelial cell adhesion molecule (Ep-CAM). Here, we report that Ep-CAM exhibits the features of a morphoregulatory molecule involved in the development of human pancreatic islets. We demonstrate that Ep-CAM expression is targeted to the lateral domain of epithelial cells of the human fetal pancreas, and that it mediates calcium-independent cell-cell adhesion. Quantitative confocal immunofluorescence in fetal pancreata identified the highest levels of Ep-CAM expression in developing islet-like cell clusters budding from the ductal epithelium, a cell compartment thought to comprise endocrine progenitors. A surprisingly reversed pattern was observed in the human adult pancreas, displaying low levels of Ep-CAM in islet cells and high levels in ducts. We further demonstrate that culture conditions promoting epithelial cell growth induce upregulation of Ep-CAM, whereas endocrine differentiation of fetal pancreatic epithelial cells, transplanted in nude mice, is associated with a downregulation of Ep-CAM expression. In addition, a blockade of Ep-CAM function by KS1/4 mAb induced insulin and glucagon gene transcription and translation in fetal pancreatic cell clusters. These results indicate that developmentally regulated expression and function of Ep-CAM play a morphoregulatory role in pancreatic islet ontogeny.

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