Tenascin C (TNC) is a component of the provisional extracellular matrix (ECM) that characterizes solid tumours. Cell surface annexin II is a high-affinity receptor for large TNC splice variants. The aim of this study was to analyse whether TNC and annexin II play a role in the development of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). PDAC is characterized by a rich ECM populated by pancreatic stellate cells, which play a crucial role in pancreatic desmoplasia. The mRNA and protein levels of TNC and of annexin II were analysed in pancreatic tissues by DNA array, quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (QRT-PCR) and immunohistochemistry. TNC large splice variants were detected by RT-PCR. Enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) was used to measure TNC levels in serum and culture supernatants. TNC and annexin II mRNA levels were significantly higher in pancreatic cancer tissues than in the normal pancreas. TNC expression was detected with increased frequency in the progression from PanIN-1 lesions to PDAC, and a parallel switch from cytoplasmic to cell surface expression of annexin II was observed. Large TNC transcripts were found in pancreatic cancer and in chronic pancreatitis, but not in the normal pancreas. TNC expression was demonstrated in pancreatic stellate cells, where it could be induced by tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha), transforming growth factor beta1 (TGF-beta1) and by cancer cell supernatants supplemented with TGF-beta1. In conclusion, the expression of TNC and cell surface annexin II increases in the progression from low-grade PanIN lesions to pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic stellate cells are identified as a source of TNC in pancreatic tissues, possibly under the influence of soluble factors released by the tumour cells.