The role of repetitive acute injury in the pathogenesis of chronic pancreatitis remains unknown. To determine if repetitive injury induced by pancreatic hyperstimulation would reproduce the characteristic features of human chronic pancreatitis, acute reversible pancreatic injury was induced in mice by twice weekly cerulein treatment, 50 microg/kg/hr x 6 hr, for 10 weeks. Procollagen alpha1(I) mRNA was markedly increased by week 2. Sirius red staining of interstitial collagen demonstrated progressive accumulation of extracellular matrix surrounding acinar units and in interlobular spaces. Atrophy, transdifferentiation of acinar units to ductlike tubular complexes, and dilatation of intraacinar lumina also developed. Electron microscopy demonstrated the presence of stromal cells in areas of fibrosis with morphologic characteristics of pancreatic stellate cells. These findings demonstrate that, in a murine model, repetitive acute injury to the pancreas by hyperstimulation can reproduce the major morphological characteristics of human chronic pancreatitis.