Single-Cell Analysis Uncovers Clonal Acinar Cell Heterogeneity in the Adult Pancreas

Dev Cell. 2016 Nov 7;39(3):289-301. doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2016.10.002. Epub 2016 Oct 27.


Acinar cells make up the majority of all cells in the pancreas, yet the source of new acinar cells during homeostasis remains unknown. Using multicolor lineage-tracing and organoid-formation assays, we identified the presence of a progenitor-like acinar cell subpopulation. These cells have long-term self-renewal capacity, albeit in a unipotent fashion. We further demonstrate that binuclear acinar cells are terminally differentiated acinar cells. Transcriptome analysis of single acinar cells revealed the existence of a minor population of cells expressing progenitor markers. Interestingly, a gain of the identified markers accompanied by a transient gain of proliferation was observed following chemically induced pancreatitis. Altogether, our study identifies a functionally and molecularly distinct acinar subpopulation and thus transforms our understanding of the acinar cell compartment as a pool of equipotent secretory cells.

Keywords: acinar cells; multicolor lineage tracing; organoids; pancreas; progenitors; single-cell sequencing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acinar Cells / cytology*
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Cell Lineage
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Clone Cells
  • Humans
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Organoids / cytology
  • Pancreas / cytology*
  • Single-Cell Analysis / methods*
  • Stathmin / metabolism


  • Stathmin
  • Stmn1 protein, mouse