Pancreatic acinar cells are highly specialized exocrine factories that produce copious amounts of digestive enzymes for intestinal digestion. Acinar cells arise from a population of multipotent progenitor cells (MPCs) that also produce ductal cells, which channel the acinar secretions to the intestine, and endocrine cells, which populate the islets of Langerhans. During a final stage of differentiation, acinar cells acquire powerful systems for maintaining cellular homeostasis in the face of great demands for protein synthesis and energy production. We summarize the pancreatic transcription factors that guide pancreatic development through the formation of the MPC population, the resolution of acinar, ductal, and islet lineages, the initiation of the acinar developmental program, and the completion of acinar cell differentiation. We discuss the evidence for the specific roles of these factors at each developmental transition and review the plasticity of mature acinar cells.
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