Tuft Cell Formation Reflects Epithelial Plasticity in Pancreatic Injury: Implications for Modeling Human Pancreatitis

Front Physiol. 2020 Feb 14:11:88. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2020.00088. eCollection 2020.


Chronic pancreatitis, a known risk factor for the development of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA), is a serious, widespread medical condition characterized by inflammation, fibrosis, and acinar to ductal metaplasia (ADM). ADM is a cell type transdifferentiation event where pancreatic acinar cells become ductal-like under conditions of injury or oncogenic mutation. Here, we show that chronic pancreatitis and ADM in genetically wild type mice results in the formation of a significant population of chemosensory tuft cells. Transcriptomic analyses of pancreatitis tuft cells identify expression of inflammatory mediators, consistent with a role for tuft cells in injury progression and/or resolution. Though similar to tuft cell populations in other organs and disease systems, we identified a number of key differences that suggest context-specific tuft cell functions. We evaluated seven different mouse strains for tuft cell formation in response to chronic injury and identified significant heterogeneity reflecting varying proclivity for epithelial plasticity between strains. These results have interesting implications in the role of epithelial plasticity and heterogeneity in pancreatitis and highlight the importance of mouse strain selection when modeling human disease.

Keywords: Dclk1; metaplasia; mouse models; pancreatitis; tuft cells.