Pancreatic AR42J cells have the feature of pluripotency of the common precursor cells of the pancreas. Dexamethasone (Dx) converts them to exocrine cells, whereas activin A (Act) converts them into endocrine cells expressing pancreatic polypeptide. A combination of Act and betacellulin (BTC) converts them further into insulin-secreting cells. The present study identifies some of the genes involved in the process of differentiation that is induced by these factors, using the mRNA differential display and screening of the cDNA expression array. The expression levels of 7 genes were increased by Act alone, and a combination of Act and BTC increased the expression of 25 more genes. Of these, 16 represented known genes or homologues of genes characterized previously. Nine of the identified genes were unrelated to any other sequences in the database. An inhibitor of the mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway, PD098059, which blocks the differentiation into insulin-secreting cells, inhibited the expression of 18 of the 25 genes, suggesting that the proteins encoded by these genes are associated with the differentiation into insulin-producing cells. These include known genes encoding extracellular signaling molecules, such as parathyroid hormone-related peptide, cytoskeletal proteins, and intracellular signaling molecules. Identification and characterization of these differentially expressed genes should help to clarify the molecular mechanism of differentiation of pancreatic cells and the gene products that enable the beta-cells to produce insulin.

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