Hedgehog signals in pancreatic differentiation from embryonic stem cells: revisiting the neglected

J K Mfopou, L Bouwens
Differentiation; Research in Biological Diversity 2008, 76 (2): 107-17
Recent demonstrations of insulin expression by progenies of mouse and human embryonic stem (ES) cells have attracted interest in setting up these cells as alternative sources of beta-cells needed in diabetes cell therapy. It is widely acknowledged that information gathered in the field of developmental biology as applied to the pancreas is of relevance for designing in vitro differentiation strategies. However, looking back at the protocols used so far, it appears that the natural route toward the pancreas, which goes via the definitive endoderm, was usually bypassed. As a consequence Hedgehog signaling, the earliest inhibitor of pancreas initiation from the endoderm, was generally not considered. A recall of the status of this pathway during ES cell differentiation appears necessary, especially in the light of findings that Activin A treatment of mouse and human ES cells coax them into definitive endoderm, a lineage showing wide Hedgehog ligands expression with the potential to hinder pancreatic programming.

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