Lineage tracing studies have revealed that transcription factors play a cardinal role in pancreatic development, differentiation and function. Three transitions define pancreatic organogenesis, differentiation and maturation. In the primary transition, when pancreatic organogenesis is initiated, there is active proliferation of pancreatic progenitor cells. During the secondary transition, defined by differentiation, there is growth, branching, differentiation and pancreatic cell lineage allocation. The tertiary transition is characterized by differentiated pancreatic cells that undergo further remodeling, including apoptosis, replication and neogenesis thereby establishing a mature organ. Transcription factors function at multiple levels and may regulate one another and auto-regulate. The interaction between extrinsic signals from non-pancreatic tissues and intrinsic transcription factors form a complex gene regulatory network ultimately culminating in the different cell lineages and tissue types in the developing pancreas. Mutations in these transcription factors clinically manifest as subtypes of diabetes mellitus. Current treatment for diabetes is not curative and thus, developmental biologists and stem cell researchers are utilizing knowledge of normal pancreatic development to explore novel therapeutic alternatives. This review summarizes current knowledge of transcription factors involved in pancreatic development and β-cell differentiation in rodents.
Keywords: diabetes; islets; multipotent progenitor cell; pancreatic transitions.