Modelling pancreatic development
Nestled between the liver, spleen and small intestine, the pancreas supports our nutrition with two key functions: secreting the hormones insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream to regulate blood sugar levels, and producing digestive enzymes. A complex branching system of ducts transports these enzymes into the duodenum, the first segment of the small intestine, where they break down food particles coming from the stomach. In the embryonic mouse pancreas pictured, red staining marks out the insulin-producing islets of Langerhans, while the pancreatic ducts and thicker duodenum, around the outside, are shown in green. Developing this network of pancreatic ducts requires several stages: first, clusters of cells organise to make small tubes, eventually creating a dense web of ducts, which is then pruned to become a more streamlined system, maintaining only the most useful ducts. Investigating this process could help us understand the development of other secretory glands in the body.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat
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