Adult Pituitary Cell Maintenance: Lineage-Specific Contribution of Self-Duplication

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The identification of a stable pool of progenitor/stem cells in the adult pituitary has renewed the interest of identifying mechanisms for maintenance of pituitary cells throughout life. Whereas developmental studies have shown that progenitor expansion is the major source of new differentiated cells during pituitary organogenesis, the contribution of these progenitors for maintenance of the adult tissue is not clear although progenitors were clearly involved in cell expansion following end-organ ablation, notably after adrenalectomy and/or gonadectomy. We have used a genetic trick that eliminates dividing cells by apoptosis in order to assess the contribution of differentiated corticotropes and melanotropes for maintenance of their population in the adult pituitary. The system relies on chromosome instability created by the action of the Cre recombinase on inverted loxP sites. Expression of Cre recombinase in corticotropes and melanotropes led to progressive loss of corticotropes whereas melanotropes were unaffected. Because the Cre transgene is not expressed in progenitors, the data indicate that maintenance of the adult corticotrope pool is primarily due to self-duplication of differentiated cells. In contrast, melanotropes do not divide. Maintenance of corticotropes by self-duplication contrasts with the reported proliferative response of undifferentiated cells observed after adrenalectomy. If corticotrope reentry into cell cycle constitutes a normal mechanism to maintain the adult corticotrope pool, this same mechanism may also be perturbed during corticotrope adenoma development in Cushing's disease.

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