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Summary: The regenerative capacity of the different cell types in the rat exocrine pancreas has been studied in a model of hormone-induced acute pancreatitis in which pancreatic edema, inflammation, and acinar cell destruction were induced within 12 h of infusion of supramaximal concentrations of cerulein (5 [mu]g/kg/h). A sequential biochemical and structural analysis of the pancreas in daily intervals was combined with the autoradiographic quantitation of labeling indices of five cell populations following 3H-thymidine injection at days 1-7 after induction of pancreatitis. Desquamation of acinar cell apical cytoplasm and release of cytoplasmic segments into the acinar lumen on the first day following induction of pancreatitis led to formation of duct-like tubular complexes. Enzyme content in the pancreas decreased progressively following the formation of the edema to levels 15-20% of controls and remained reduced during the initial 5 days. Thymidine incorporation into total DNA showed a biphasic pattern with a distinct peak at day 1 and a second broader peak between days 4 and 7. Autoradiographic quantitation of labeling indices demonstrated the exclusive incorporation into intercalated duct cells and interstitial cells during the initial 24 h, while the second peak was predominantly due to labeling of acinar cells. Larger interlobular ducts and islets did not show changes in labeling index. In vivo labeling with 3H-thymidine during the first day and analysis of labeling indices 14 days later showed the persistence of label in intercalated duct cells and interstitial cells and argued against the stem cell hypothesis and against transformation of duct cells into acinar cells. It was concluded that regeneration following acute pancreatitis is mainly due to mitotic activity of remaining acinar cells. The initial and transient increase in replication of intercalated duct cells and interstitial cells could be due to the inflammatory reaction.

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