The pancreas is comprised of exocrine and endocrine components. Despite the fact that they are derived from a common origin in utero, these two compartments are often studied individually because of the different roles and functions of the exocrine and endocrine pancreas. Recent studies have shown that not only type 1 diabetes (T1D), but also type 2 diabetes (T2D), is characterized by a deficit in beta-cell mass, suggesting that pathological changes in the pancreas are critical events in the natural history of diabetes. In both patients with T1D and those with T2D, pancreas mass and exocrine function have been reported to be reduced. On the other hand, pancreas volume and pancreatic fat increase with obesity. Increased beta-cell mass with increasing obesity has also been observed in humans, and ectopic fat deposits in the pancreas have been reported to cause beta-cell dysfunction. Moreover, neogenesis and transdifferentiation from the exocrine to the endocrine compartment in the postnatal period are regarded as a source of newly formed beta-cells. These findings suggest that there is important interplay between the endocrine and exocrine pancreas throughout life. This review summarizes the current knowledge on physiological and pathological changes in the exocrine and endocrine pancreas (i.e., beta-cell mass), and discusses the potential mechanisms of the interplay between the two compartments in humans to understand the pathophysiology of diabetes better.
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