Most of the pancreatic mass is composed of exocrine tissue, consisting of secretory acinar cells and pancreatic ducts. Pancreatic acinar cells are highly specialized as they are fully dedicated to produce vast amounts of digestive enzymes. These cells also display remarkable plasticity, as they can convert into ductal-like structures or even give rise to preneoplastic lesions under sustained injury. The function of acinar cells is key to ensure proper nutrition and alterations in their development or maintenance can lead to severe health problems.
My laboratory previously identified a new transcription factor (Prox1) expressed in the early mouse pancreatic primordium. Our studies also demonstrated that Prox1 activity is essential for morphogenesis, progenitor expansion, and cell differentiation in the embryonic pancreas (Wang et al., Dev. Biol., 2005; Westmoreland et al., Gastroenterology, 2012). More recently, we uncovered an unexpected role of Prox1 involving the timely differentiation of acinar cells and determined that persistent Prox1 expression impairs acinar cell maturation (unpublished results). Understanding how Prox1 interacts with the regulatory network that governs acinar cell development and identifying the underlying pathology in acinar cells that express ectopic Prox1 are current projects in my lab.