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Open Access Research article

Transdifferentiation of pancreatic cells by loss of contact-mediated signaling

Walter de Back1, Roland Zimm12 and Lutz Brusch1*

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Information Services and High Performance Computing, Technische Universität Dresden, Dresden, 01062, Germany

2 Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki, PO Box 56, Helsinki FIN-00014, Finland

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BMC Systems Biology 2013, 7:77  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-7-77

Published: 13 August 2013



Replacement of dysfunctional β-cells in the islets of Langerhans by transdifferentiation of pancreatic acinar cells has been proposed as a regenerative therapy for diabetes. Adult acinar cells spontaneously revert to a multipotent state upon tissue dissociation in vitro and can be stimulated to redifferentiate into β-cells. Despite accumulating evidence that contact-mediated signals are involved, the mechanisms regulating acinar-to-islet cell transdifferentiation remain poorly understood.


In this study, we propose that the crosstalk between two contact-mediated signaling mechanisms, lateral inhibition and lateral stabilization, controls cell fate stability and transdifferentiation of pancreatic cells. Analysis of a mathematical model combining gene regulation with contact-mediated signaling reveals the multistability of acinar and islet cell fates. Inhibition of one or both modes of signaling results in transdifferentiation from the acinar to the islet cell fate, either by dedifferentiation to a multipotent state or by direct lineage switching.


This study provides a theoretical framework to understand the role of contact-mediated signaling in pancreatic cell fate control that may help to improve acinar-to-islet cell transdifferentiation strategies for β-cell neogenesis.

Lineage conversion; Intercellular communication; Reprogramming; Pancreas; Acinar cells; Islet cells; Mathematical model; Multicellular systems biology