Ex vivo expansion of embryonic stem cells (ES cells) or pancreatic stem cells for insulin delivery to diabetic patients provides potential for the restoration of islet function in these individuals. Understanding the spatial and temporal requirements of crucial factors for endocrine progenitor specification, proliferation, and terminal differentiation remains a major challenge in the field of pancreas development. Here, we provide speculation as to the role of pdx1 and HNF6 in these different stages of pancreatic endocrine cell development. At the time when islets begin to form within the pancreas, the expression patterns of pdx1 and HNF6 diverge, suggesting distinct functions for each of the genes over the course of endocrine cell development. The current body of evidence provides support for a role of both factors in early endocrine specification as well as a requirement for pdx1 in the generation of mature pancreatic endocrine cells. The precise temporal requirement of HNF6 in the production of terminally differentiated endocrine cells remains unclear. Future studies in this area will rely on conditionally manipulatable systems in combination with lineage-tracing studies for a more accurate assessment of pdx1 and HNF6 function at different stages along the pathway of endocrine cell development.
Copyright 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.