The Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway, conserved across the animal kingdom, is critical for the development of numerous tissues. Several recent studies have focused on the roles that this pathway plays at different stages of pancreatic organogenesis, including specification, proliferation, differentiation and function. Whereas, during early endoderm development, inhibition of the pathway is required for pancreatic specification, subsequent growth and differentiation of the fetal organ depends on the pathway being active. This appears especially true for exocrine acinar cells, the specification and differentiation of which also depend on β-catenin function. Whether the pathway plays an important role in development or function of endocrine islet cells, including insulin-producing β-cells, remains controversial. This question is particularly important in light of recent studies that implicate a downstream component of the pathway, TCF7L2, in human β-cell function. This review will cover recent work on Wnt/β-catenin signaling in pancreas development, emphasizing those points of controversy that most urgently require further investigation.
Keywords: Wnt; endocrine; exocrine; islet; pancreas; β-catenin.