The epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor is a transmembrane protein that binds EGF and transforming growth factor alpha (TGF alpha), and that stimulates phospholipase C gamma 1 (PLC gamma 1) activity. In this study the role of the EGF receptor in chronic pancreatitis was studied. By immunohistochemistry, the EGF receptor, TGF alpha, and PLC gamma 1 were found to be expressed at high concentrations in pancreatic ductal and acinar cells from chronic pancreatitis patients. Northern blot analysis showed that, by comparison with normal controls, 19 of 27 chronic pancreatitis tissues exhibited a 5.7-fold increase in EGF receptor mRNA concentrations, and 20 of 27 chronic pancreatitis tissues exhibited a sixfold increase in TGF alpha mRNA concentrations. In situ hybridisation confirmed that overexpression occurred in ductal and acinar cells, and showed that both mRNA moieties colocalised with their respective proteins. These findings suggest that TGF alpha may act through autocrine and paracrine mechanisms to excessively activate the overexpressed EGF receptor in the two major cell types of the exocrine pancreas, thereby contributing to the pathobiology of this disorder.
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