We have recently identified the zinc finger and SCAN domain containing 4 (Zscan4), which is transiently expressed and regulates telomere elongation and genome stability in mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells. The aim of this study was to examine the expression of ZSCAN4 in the adult pancreas and elucidate the role of ZSCAN4 in tissue inflammation and subsequent regeneration. The expression of ZSCAN4 and other progenitor or differentiated cell markers in the human pancreas was immunohistochemically examined. Pancreas sections of alcoholic or autoimmune pancreatitis patients before and under maintenance corticosteroid treatment were used in this study. In the adult human pancreas a small number of ZSCAN4-positive (ZSCAN4⁺) cells are present among cells located in the islets of Langerhans, acini, ducts, and oval-shaped cells. These cells not only express differentiated cell markers for each compartment of the pancreas but also express other tissue stem/progenitor cell markers. Furthermore, the number of ZSCAN4⁺ cells dramatically increased in patients with chronic pancreatitis, especially in the pancreatic tissues of autoimmune pancreatitis actively regenerating under corticosteroid treatment. Interestingly, a number of ZSCAN4⁺ cells in the pancreas of autoimmune pancreatitis returned to the basal level after 1 yr of maintenance corticosteroid treatment. In conclusion, coexpression of progenitor cell markers and differentiated cell markers with ZSCAN4 in each compartment of the pancreas may indicate the presence of facultative progenitors for both exocrine and endocrine cells in the adult pancreas.
Keywords: autoimmune pancreatitis; facultative progenitor cells; regeneration.