Introduction. The ability to expand organ-specific stem/progenitor cells is critical for translational applications, although uncertainties often arise in identifying the lineage of expanded cells. Therefore, superior insights into lineage maintenance mechanisms will be helpful for cell/gene therapy. Methods. We studied epithelial cells isolated from fetal human pancreas to assess their proliferation potential, changes in lineage markers during culture, and capacity for generating insulin-expressing beta cells. Cells were isolated by immunomagnetic sorting for epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM), and characterized for islet-associated transcription factors, hormones, and ductal markers. Further studies were performed after modification of cells with the catalytic subunit of human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT). Results: Fetal pancreatic progenitor cells efficiently formed primary cultures, although their replication capacity was limited. This was overcome by introduction and expression of hTERT with a retroviral vector, which greatly enhanced cellular replication in vitro. However, we found that during culture hTERT-modified pancreatic progenitor cells switched their phenotype with gain of additional mesodermal properties. This phenotypic switching was inhibited when a pancreas-duodenal homeobox (Pdx)-1 transgene was expressed in hTERT-modified cells with a lentiviral vector, along with inductive signaling through activin A and serum deprivation. This restored endocrine properties of hTERT-modified cells in vitro. Moreover, transplantation studies in immunodeficient mice verified the capacity of these cells for expressing insulin in vivo. Conclusions: Limited replication capacity of pancreatic endocrine progenitor cells was overcome by the hTERT mechanism, which should facilitate further studies of such cells, although mechanisms regulating switches between meso-endodermal fates of expanded cells will need to be controlled for developing specific applications. The availability of hTERT-expanded fetal pancreatic endocrine progenitor cells will be helpful for studying and recapitulating stage-specific beta lineage advancement in pluripotent stem cells.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Medicine (miscellaneous)
- Molecular Medicine
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)
- Cell Biology