Rat pancreatitis-associated protein (PAP) is an additional protein appearing in pancreatic juice after induction of prancreatic inflammation. Its messenger RNA was cloned and sequenced from pancreas. The deduced amino acid sequence revealed that PAP was synthetized as a preprotein with, in its mature form, a predicted molecular weight of 16,630. A search in protein data bases revealed a marked homology with the carbohydrate binding region of animal lectins; no hemagglutination activity could be shown for PAP, but the protein induced extensive bacterial aggregation. In healthy rats, the very low level of PAP expression in pancreas could be increased up to 4-fold by physiological stimuli such as chronic hormonal or cholinergic stimulation of pancreatic secretion and adaptation of rats to a carbohydrate-rich diet. By contrast, induction of acute experimental pancreatitis by retrograde injection of sodium taurocholate resulted in dramatic overexpression. Pancreatic concentration of PAP mRNA increased more than 300 x within 12 h whereas concentrations of mRNAs encoding major secretory proteins such as amylase decreased. PAP overexpression persisted during the 2 days of the acute phase and then returned to the control level during pancreatic recovery. PAP mRNA could not be evidenced in liver, stomach, salivary glands, brain, kidney, or testis. Its pattern of expression during severe pancreatic aggression suggests that it might be a stress protein involved in the control of bacterial proliferation.