Polyhormonal aspect of the endocrine cells of the human fetal pancreas

Histochem Cell Biol. 1999 Aug;112(2):147-53. doi: 10.1007/s004180050401.


Histological studies were performed on 30 pancreases obtained from normal human fetuses aged between the 9th and 38th week. For immunocytochemistry, the avidin-biotin-peroxidase method was used to identify and colocalise insulin, glucagon, somatostatin, pancreatic polypeptide and proliferating cell nuclear antigen. In the 9th week, cells containing all investigated peptides were present. During the fetal period, two populations of endocrine cells have been distinguished, Langerhans islets and freely dispersed cells. The free cells were polyhormonal, containing insulin, glucagon, somatostatin and pancreatic polypeptide, and were localised in the walls of pancreatic ducts throughout the whole gland. During the development of the islets we have observed four stages: (1) the scattered polyhormonal cell stage (9th-10th week), (2) the immature polyhormonal islet stage (11th-15th week), (3) the insulin monohormonal core islet stage (16th-29th week), in which zonular and mantle islets are observed, and (4) the polymorphic islet stage (from the 30th week onwards), which is characterised by the presence of monohormonal cells expressing glucagon or somatostatin. Bigeminal and polar islets also appeared during this last stage. The islets consisted of an insulin core surrounded by a thick (in the part developing from the dorsal primordium) or thin rim (part of the pancreas concerned with the ventral primordium) of intermingled mono- or dihormonal glucagon-positive or somatostatin-positive cells. The most externally located polyhormonal cells exhibited a reaction for glucagon, somatostatin and pancreatic polypeptide. Apart from the above-mentioned types of islets, all arrangements observed in earlier stages were present. Proliferating cell nuclear antigen-positive cells (single in the large islets and more numerous in the smaller ones) were predominantly observed in the outermost layer. Taken together our data indicate that, during the human prenatal development of the islet, endocrine cells are able to synthesise several different hormones. Maturation of these cells involved or depended on a change from a polyhormonal to a monohormonal state and is concerned with decreasing proliferative capacity. This supports the concept of a common precursor stem cell for the hormone-producing cells of the fetal human pancreas.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Glucagon / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Islets of Langerhans / embryology*
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism*
  • Islets of Langerhans / pathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Pancreatic Ducts / embryology
  • Pancreatic Ducts / metabolism
  • Pancreatic Ducts / pathology
  • Pancreatic Hormones / metabolism*
  • Pancreatic Polypeptide / metabolism
  • Proliferating Cell Nuclear Antigen / metabolism
  • Somatostatin / metabolism
  • Swine


  • Insulin
  • Pancreatic Hormones
  • Proliferating Cell Nuclear Antigen
  • Somatostatin
  • Pancreatic Polypeptide
  • Glucagon