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The determinants of vertebrate organ size are poorly understood, but the process is thought to depend heavily on growth factors and other environmental cues. In the blood and central nervous system, for example, organ mass is determined primarily by growth-factor-regulated cell proliferation and apoptosis to achieve a final target size. Here, we report that the size of the mouse pancreas is constrained by an intrinsic programme established early in development, one that is essentially not subject to growth compensation. Specifically, final pancreas size is limited by the size of the progenitor cell pool that is set aside in the developing pancreatic bud. By contrast, the size of the liver is not constrained by reductions in the progenitor cell pool. These findings show that progenitor cell number, independently of regulation by growth factors, can be a key determinant of organ size.