Neogenesis of endocrine islets from ductal epithelium termed nesidioblastosis has been described in vivo after various experimental conditions (90% pancreatectomy or pancreas wrapping in the rodent) and in clinical pathologies. In the adult regenerating pancreas, a proliferation and organization of ductal epithelium into tubular structures precedes its differentiation into endocrine cells. Reproduction of nesidioblastosis in vitro may provide a novel approach to human islet propagation in vitro. With this aim, adult human islet preparations were cultured in diverse three-dimensional (3D) gels in the presence of serum. After 3–5 days in rat tail collagen gels, proliferating (bromodeoxyuridine-positive) cystic structures appeared associated with islets and as isolated spheres. Percentage labeling indexes of the cysts were 4.1, 18.7, 15.4, and 13.3% after 3, 5, 7, and 10 days of culture, respectively. Immunohistochemistry confirmed the ductal (carbohydrate antigen 19–9) and epithelial (keratin-1) nature of the cysts. No cysts were formed in agarose gels or Vitrogen 100, whereas the cyst number was increased by the quantity of serum (20% > 10%) and gels rich in extracellular matrix components and growth factors (Matrigel). The latter lead to tubular networks. Single endocrine islet cells were observed in the ductal cysts after 7 (2.8%) to 10 (5.6%) days in rat tail collagen. Our observations paralleled the changes characteristic of the regenerating pancreas in vivo. 3D culture may permit the identification of matrix and media constituents promoting the neogenesis of islets and may be the means to increase the mass of endocrine tissue obtained from adult cadaveric pancreases for transplantation.

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