Pancreas oganogenesis comprises a coordinated and highly complex interplay of signaling events and transcriptional networks that guide a step-wise process of organ development from early bud specification all the way to the final mature organ state. Extensive research on pancreas development over the last few years, largely driven by a translational potential for pancreatic diseases (diabetes, pancreatic cancer, and so on), is markedly advancing our knowledge of these processes. It is a tenable goal that we will one day have a clear, complete picture of the transcriptional and signaling codes that control the entire organogenetic process, allowing us to apply this knowledge in a therapeutic context, by generating replacement cells in vitro, or perhaps one day to the whole organ in vivo. This review summarizes findings in the past 5 years that we feel are amongst the most significant in contributing to the deeper understanding of pancreas development. Rather than try to cover all aspects comprehensively, we have chosen to highlight interesting new concepts, and to discuss provocatively some of the more controversial findings or proposals. At the end of the review, we include a perspective section on how the whole pancreas differentiation process might be able to be unwound in a regulated fashion, or redirected, and suggest linkages to the possible reprogramming of other pancreatic cell-types in vivo, and to the optimization of the forward-directed-differentiation of human embryonic stem cells (hESC), or induced pluripotential cells (iPSC), towards mature β-cells.
Copyright © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.