Background & aims: Until now, the basic matrix-producing cell type responsible for pancreas fibrosis has not been identified. In this report, retinoid-containing pancreatic stellate cells (PSCs) in rat and human pancreas are described, and morphological and biochemical similarities to hepatic stellate cells are shown.
Methods: Electron and immunofluorescence microscopy (collagen types I and III, fibronectin, laminin, alpha-actin, and desmin) was performed using pancreatic tissue and cultured PSCs. Extracellular matrix synthesis was shown using quantitative immunoassay and Northern blot analysis.
Results: PSCs are located in interlobular areas and in interacinar regions. Early primary cultured PSCs contain retinol and fatty acid retinyl-esters. Addition of retinol to passaged cells resulted in retinol uptake and esterification. During primary culture, the cells changed from a quiescent fat-storing phenotype to a highly synthetic myofibroblast-like cell expressing iso-alpha-smooth muscle actin (>90%) and desmin (20%-40%) and showing strong positive staining with antibodies to collagen types I and III, fibronectin, and laminin. As determined on protein and messenger RNA level, serum growth factors stimulated the synthesis of collagen type I and fibronectin.
Conclusions: The identification of PSCs, particularly in fibrotic areas, and the similarities of these cells to hepatic stellate cells suggest that PSCs participate in the development of pancreas fibrosis.