Metaplasia is the irreversible conversion of one differentiated cell or tissue type into another. Metaplasia usually occurs in tissues that undergo regeneration, and may, in a pathological context, predispose to an increased risk of disease. Studying the conditions leading to the development of metaplasia is therefore of significant clinical interest. In contrast, transdifferentiation (or cellular reprogramming) is a subset of metaplasia that describes the permanent conversion of one differentiated cell type into another, and generally occurs between cells that arise from neighbouring regions of the same germ layer. Transdifferentiation, although rare, has been shown to occur in Nature. New insights into the signalling pathways involved in normal tissue development may be obtained by investigating the cellular and molecular mechanisms in metaplasia and transdifferentiation, and additional identification of key molecular regulators in transdifferentiation and metaplasia could provide new targets for therapeutic treatment of diseases such as cancer, as well as generating cells for transplantation into patients with degenerative disorders. In the present review, we focus on the transdifferentiation of pancreatic cells into hepatocyte-like cells, the development of Barrett's metaplasia in the oesophagus, and the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying both processes.

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