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Keywords:

  • Ptf1a;
  • Pancreas development;
  • Embryonic stem cells;
  • Pluripotent stem cells;
  • Pancreatic duodenal homeobox 1;
  • Beta cells;
  • Insulin;
  • Endocrine;
  • Neurogenin3;
  • Acinar morphology

Abstract

Besides its role in exocrine differentiation, pancreas-specific transcription factor 1a (PTF1a) is required for pancreas specification from the foregut endoderm and ultimately for endocrine cell formation. Examining the early role of PTF1a in pancreas development has been challenging due to limiting amounts of embryonic tissue material for study. Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) which can be differentiated in vitro, and without limit to the amount of experimental material, can serve as a model system to study these early developmental events. To this end, we derived and characterized a mouse ESC line with tetracycline-inducible expression of PTF1a (tet-Ptf1a mESCs). We found that transient ectopic expression of PTF1a initiated the pancreatic program in differentiating ESCs causing cells to activate PDX1 expression in bud-like structures resembling pancreatic primordia in vivo. These bud-like structures also expressed progenitor markers characteristic of a developing pancreatic epithelium. The epithelium differentiated to generate a wave of NGN3+ endocrine progenitors, and further formed cells of all three pancreatic lineages. Notably, the insulin+ cells in the cultures were monohormonal, and expressed PDX1 and NKX6.1. PTF1a-induced cultures differentiated into significantly more endocrine and exocrine cells and the ratio of endocrine-to-exocrine cell differentiation could be regulated by retinoic acid (RA) and nicotinamide (Nic) signaling. Moreover, induced cultures treated with RA and Nic exhibited a modest glucose response. Thus, this tet-Ptf1a ESC-based in vitro system is a valuable new tool for interrogating the role of PTF1a in pancreas development and in directing differentiation of ESCs to endocrine cells. Stem Cells 2014;32:1195–1207