In a primary culture model for pancreatic acinar-ductal transdifferentiation, cells exhibited increased proliferation, changes in nuclearity and polyploidy. We identify the 'nucleus to centrosome' ratio of the progenitor cell, the dissemination of centrosomes at spindle poles and cytokinesis failure as critical determinants of mitosis outcome and centrosome inheritance. Abortive cytokinesis of mononuclear cells contributes to the binuclear cell pool, whereas enclosure of entire mitotic formations, within a single nuclear envelope, perpetuates polyploidization. Binuclear cell nuclei combine their genomes on a single metaphase plate, doubling descendant ploidy. Moreover, approximately 42% of binuclear and tetraploid cells assemble aberrant spindles with up to 8 centrosomes/poles. These phenotypes were exacerbated in p53-deficient cultures exhibiting increased S-phase entry, giant nuclei, multinucleation, multipolar mitoses and centrosome hyperamplification. The tendency of p53-proficient cells to spontaneously evade the tetraploidy checkpoint degenerates to uncontrolled polyploid progression in p53-deficient cultures, explaining why p53 abrogation alone rapidly descends to aneuploidy in this system. We detected constitutively nuclear mdm2, which may circumvent endogenous cell-cycle checkpoints, and pronounced accumulation of p21 and p27 in multinuclear cells and giant nuclei, consistent with roles in polyploidization. This in vitro model may recapitulate the processes underlying genomic instability in pancreatic tumours in vivo, and attests to the existence of a p53-dependent polyploidy checkpoint acting to limit the degree of polyploidization.