Several investigators have postulated that soluble growth factors are involved in the early development of the pancreas. In many tissues in which soluble factors are implicated in development, these factors act on their target cells through tyrosine kinase receptors. Because we had some preliminary evidence that fibroblast growth factor receptors (FGFRs) were expressed in the early pancreas, we investigated the effect of fibroblast growth factors (FGFs) during embryonic pancreatic development. For that purpose, we first studied the distribution and the functionality of FGFRs during pancreatic organogenesis. FGFR1 and FGFR4 were shown to be expressed at a high level during early pancreatic development before embryonic day 16, their levels of expression decreasing thereafter. The functionality of FGFR was studied next. It was demonstrated in vitro that both FGF1 and FGF2 induce the expression of NGFI-A mRNA, a useful indicator of functional growth factor-signaling pathways. Finally, the effect of FGF2 on embryonic pancreatic epithelial cell proliferation was studied. It was shown that FGF2 induces the proliferation of pancreatic epithelial cells during embryonic life. Taken together, these data strongly suggest that FGFs are implicated in pancreatic development during embryonic life.

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