Pituitary stem /progenitor cells: embryonic players in the adult gland?


Dr H. Vankelecom, as above.
E-mail: Hugo.Vankelecom@med.kuleuven.be


The pituitary gland represents the endocrine core of the body, and its hormonal output governs many key physiological processes. Because endocrine demands frequently change, the pituitary has to flexibly remodel its hormone-producing cell compartment. One mechanism of pituitary plasticity may rely on the generation of new hormonal cells from resident stem/progenitor cells. Existence of such ‘master’ cells in the pituitary has in the past repeatedly been postulated. Only recently, however, very plausible candidates have been identified that express stem cell-associated markers and signalling factors, and display the stem/progenitor cell characteristics of multipotency, efflux capacity (side population phenotype) and niche-like organization. In other adult tissues, stem cells recapitulate the embryonic developmental path on their course towards mature specialized cells. Interestingly, the pituitary stem/progenitor cell compartment shows prominent expression of transcriptional regulators and signalling factors that play a pivotal role during pituitary embryogenesis. This review summarizes the recent progress in pituitary stem/progenitor cell identification, highlights their potential embryonic phenotype, sketches a tentative stem/progenitor cell model, and discusses further research and challenges. Recognizing and scrutinizing the pituitary stem/progenitor cells as embryonic players in the adult gland may profoundly impact on our still poor understanding of the mechanisms underlying pituitary cell turnover and plasticity.