Regeneration of insulin-producing β-cells from resident pancreas progenitors requires an understanding of both progenitor identity and lineage plasticity. One model suggested that a rare β-cell sub-population within islets demonstrated multi-lineage plasticity. We hypothesized that β-cells from young mice (postnatal day 7, P7) exhibit such plasticity and used a model of islet dedifferentiation toward a ductal epithelial-cell phenotype to test this theory. RIPCre;Z/AP(+/+) mice were used to lineage trace the fate of β-cells during dedifferentiation culture by a human placental alkaline phosphatase (HPAP) reporter. There was a significant loss of HPAP-expressing β-cells in culture, but remaining HPAP(+) cells lost insulin expression while gaining expression of the epithelial duct cell marker cytokeratin-19 (Ck19). Flow cytometry and recovery of β-cell subpopulations from whole pancreas vs. islets suggest that the HPAP(+)Ck19(+) cells had derived from insulin-positive, glucose-transporter-2-low (Ins(+)Glut2(LO)) cells, representing 3.5% of all insulin-expressing cells. The majority of these cells were found outside of islets within clusters of <5 β-cells. These insulin(+)Glut2(LO) cells demonstrated a greater proliferation rate in vivo and in vitro as compared to insulin(+)Glut2(+) cells at P7, were retained into adulthood, and a subset differentiated into endocrine, ductal, and neural lineages, illustrating substantial plasticity. Results were confirmed using RIPCre;ROSA- eYFP mice. Quantitative PCR data indicated these cells possess an immature β-cell phenotype. These Ins(+)Glut2(LO) cells may represent a resident population of cells capable of forming new, functional β-cells, and which may be potentially exploited for regenerative therapies in the future.
Keywords: Glut2; differentiation; duct; islet; pancreas; plasticity; progenitor cell; β-cell.