In the mammalian pancreas, endocrine cells undergo lineage allocation upon emergence from a bipotent duct/endocrine progenitor pool, which resides in the "trunk epithelium." Major questions remain regarding how niche environments are organized within this epithelium to coordinate endocrine differentiation with programs of epithelial growth, maturation, and morphogenesis. We used EdU pulse-chase and tissue-reconstruction approaches to analyze how endocrine progenitors and their differentiating progeny are assembled within the trunk as it undergoes remodeling from an irregular plexus of tubules to form the eventual mature, branched ductal arbor. The bulk of endocrine progenitors is maintained in an epithelial "plexus state," which is a transient intermediate during epithelial maturation within which endocrine cell differentiation is continually robust and surprisingly long-lived. Within the plexus, local feedback effects derived from the differentiating and delaminating endocrine cells nonautonomously regulate the flux of endocrine cell birth as well as proliferative growth of the bipotent cell population using Notch-dependent and Notch-independent influences, respectively. These feedback effects in turn maintain the plexus state to ensure prolonged allocation of endocrine cells late into gestation. These findings begin to define a niche-like environment guiding the genesis of the endocrine pancreas and advance current models for how differentiation is coordinated with the growth and morphogenesis of the developing pancreatic epithelium.
© 2015 Bankaitis et al.; Published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.