Objective: Chronic pancreatitis (CP) is a chronic condition associated with pancreatic fibrosis. A small subgroup of patients with CP develop enlargement of the head of the pancreas (EHP). This study examined some of the mechanisms that may lead to the development of EHP. Summary Background Data: The c-erb B-2 protooncogene encodes a 185-kDa transmembrane growth factor receptor (p185) that regulates cell growth and differentiation. Methods: The authors analyzed c-erb B-2 expression in samples obtained from the head of the pancreas from 26 patients with CP (5 women, 21 men) using immunohistochemical and molecular techniques. A diagnosis of CP with EHP was made when the vertical pancreatic head diameter was greater than 4 cm (14 patients), as determined by contrast-enhanced computed axial tomography scan. Pancreatic tissues from 15 healthy organ donors served as control subjects. Results: In all patients without EHP and in the healthy control subjects, p185 immunoreactivity was present at low levels. In contrast, strong p185 immunoreactivity was observed in acinar and ductal cells in all patients with EHP. By in situ hybridization, c-erb B-2 messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) grains were expressed at high levels in patients with CP with EHP in both ductal and acinar cells. Northern blot analysis demonstrated a 4.5-fold increase (p < 0.001) in c-erb B-2 mRNA levels in patients with EHP compared with patients without EHP and healthy control subjects. Southern blot analysis did not reveal c-erb B-2 gene amplification or rearrangement. Conclusions: These findings indicate the c-erb B-2 is not overexpressed in most patients with CP. However, its overexpression in patients with CP with EHP suggest that c-erb B-2 may contribute to the pathophysiologic processes that lead to pancreatic head enlargement.
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