Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Backseat Drivers
26 October 2012

Backseat Drivers

Tucked away between our spine and stomach lies our pancreas. Faults within this vital organ can cause diseases like diabetes or pancreatitis. These conditions often strike later in life, but problems can also stem from early in development. Inside a mouse embryo, the pancreas is just beginning to take shape (pictured). All the different cells originate from a single layer of tissue, called the epithelium (labelled blue), which is surrounded by a type of ‘packing’ tissue called mesenchyme (labelled green). Mesenchyme cells are like mini backseat drivers, giving out molecular instructions that influence the growth and development of the epithelium. Here (the inset shows a close-up), epithelium is transforming into insulin-producing beta cells, which contain a protein called PDX (labelled red). If the mesenchyme is destroyed the instructions are silenced and the growth of beta cells halts, illustrating the importance of the packing tissue for this growing organ’s fate.

Written by Emma Stoye

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