Reg is a gene associated with regeneration of pancreatic islets. We have previously shown that nicotinamide induces differentiation of human fetal β-cells in tissue culture and that hepatocyte growth factor/scatter factor (HGF/SF) is mitogenic for the fetal β-cells. We now tested whether these conditions, supporting either differentiation or growth, are associated with changes in reg gene expression in human fetal pancreatic cells. Culture for 7 days with 10 mM nicotinamide led to a fourfold decrease in reg mRNA levels (23 ± 12% of control, n = 5, P < 0.001). In contrast, HGF/SF increased reg expression threefold (302 ± 68% of control, n = 4, P < 0.05). Nicotinamide, which does not alter the differentiation level of adult β-cells, did not significantly affect reg expression in adult human islets (84 ± 4% of control, n = 2, NS). Thus, a higher level of endocrine differentiation is associated with a lower level of reg expression, and a higher rate of β-cell replication results in increased reg transcription. These results provide the first evidence of a molecular marker, the reg gene, to distinguish between proliferation and differentiation of human β-cells.

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