Dickkopf-3 is expressed in a subset of adult human pancreatic beta cells

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The Dickkopf (Dkk) gene family of secretory modulators of canonical Wnt/beta catenin signals is involved in the control of stem cell proliferation, homeostasis and differentiation. Bioinformatic data on dkk-1/3 gene expression, indicating high expression levels in the human pancreas, led us to analyze these two proteins in adult human pancreatic tissue. Dkk-1/3 mRNA levels and protein distribution were analyzed in isolated human islets vs. the exocrine/ductal pancreatic cells and in paraffin sections of adult human pancreata. Using real time PCR only lowest amounts of dkk-1 mRNA were detectable in the endocrine fractions. Immunohistochemistry did not reveal any Dkk-1 protein in adult human pancreatic tissue. Interestingly, Dkk-3 mRNA and protein were clearly present in adult human pancreatic islets. Messenger RNA levels for Dkk-3 were significantly higher in isolated islets as compared to the exocrine/ductal fraction. Co-staining with an antibody against insulin identified the beta cells of the pancreas as the Dkk-3-positive cells. Notably, only a subset of beta cells contained Dkk-3. As shown by western blot analysis Dkk-3 seems to be proteolytically processed in beta cells. To our knowledge, this is the first study describing a molecule with which the pool of pancreatic beta cells can be further subdivided. Future studies will show whether this sub-classification of beta cells translates into functional differences.

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We gratefully acknowledge the support provided by Allianz Elementar Versicherungs-AG.

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Correspondence to M. Hermann.

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Hermann, M., Pirkebner, D., Draxl, A. et al. Dickkopf-3 is expressed in a subset of adult human pancreatic beta cells. Histochem Cell Biol 127, 513–521 (2007) doi:10.1007/s00418-007-0278-6

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  • Dickkopf
  • Islet regeneration
  • Beta cells