Aims/hypothesis: We investigated the expression and function of netrin-1, a diffusible laminin-like protein known to regulate neuronal-cell migration in the pancreas. We questioned whether this factor regulates migration of pancreatic epithelial cells and whether this could be involved in islet neogenesis.
Methods: We studied fetal and adult rat pancreas wherein duct ligation induced islet neogenesis. Netrin-1 expression was analysed by RT-PCR, western blot and immunohistochemistry. In vitro cell migration was measured with a human pancreatic duct cell line (CAPAN-2) and with fetal porcine islet cells. We also studied the expression of two netrin-receptors, neogenin and deleted in colorectal cancer.
Results: We found a transient expression of netrin-1 mRNA and protein in fetal pancreas from E15 to E18, and in adult pancreas after duct ligation. In normal adult pancreas there was very little netrin-1 expression. Netrin-1 expression was observed both in endocrine and exocrine cells. At the immunohistochemical level, it was expressed by islet cells during tissue regeneration. We could show that netrin-1 increases the migration of fetal islet cells and of a ductal cell line, mainly via a chemokinetic effect. From the two well-established netrin receptors, DCC and neogenin, we only found neogenin to be expressed in the pancreas. Neogenin expression coincided with the period of netrin-1 up-regulation.
Conclusion/interpretation: Netrin-1 is involved in pancreatic morphogenesis and tissue remodelling and plays a role in the regulation of duct-cell and fetal-islet cell migration. This can be of importance in islet regeneration, where migration of islet precursors takes place.