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Gastroenterology. 1998 Nov;115(5):1254-62.

Malignant transformation of duct-like cells originating from acini in transforming growth factor transgenic mice.

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Department of Internal Medicine I, Ulm University, Ulm, Germany.



In transgenic mice overexpressing transforming growth factor (TGF)-alpha in the exocrine pancreas, progressive pancreatic fibrosis and a transdifferentiation of acinar cells to duct-like cells occurs. The present study was undertaken to analyze this transdifferentiation process.


Pancreatic specimens were characterized using light microscopy and immunohistochemistry. Expression of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and TGF-alpha was evaluated with slot blot and Western analysis. To identify other generic events, K-ras mutations were screened with an enriched polymerase chain reaction approach and p53 expression was detected with immunohistochemistry.


Morphological examination revealed an aggregation of interlobular fibroblasts and a decrease in acinar cell height starting at day 14 after birth. In older animals, these acinar cells change to duct-like cells, which form tubular structures and express ductal markers. Evidence for dysplastic changes was found in 12 of 21 TGF-alpha transgenic mice older than 1 year. We also observed four malignant pancreatic tumors, which were multicentric and originated from dysplastic tubular complexes. They displayed a mixed cystic-papillary phenotype strongly positive for carbonic anhydrase activity. EGFR expression progressively increased in the transition from acinar to duct-like and transformed cells. Activating K-ras mutations could not be detected; however, tubular complexes and tumors displayed increased immunoreactivity for nuclear p53.


These data suggest an involvement of the TGF-alpha/EGFR pathway in conjunction with other yet unknown events in pancreatic tumor development. Furthermore, these observations are in favor of an acinar-ductal carcinoma sequence. Thus, these transgenic animals will be useful to define genetic alterations associated with a transition from acinar cells to a neoplastic ductal phenotype.

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