MicroRNA 21 targets BCL2 mRNA to increase apoptosis in rat and human beta cells

Emily K. Sims, Alexander J. Lakhter, Emily Anderson-Baucum, Tatsuyoshi Kono, Xin Tong, Carmella Evans-Molina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

25 Scopus citations


Aims/hypothesis: The role of beta cell microRNA (miR)-21 in the pathophysiology of type 1 diabetes has been controversial. Here, we sought to define the context of beta cell miR-21 upregulation in type 1 diabetes and the phenotype of beta cell miR-21 overexpression through target identification. Methods: Islets were isolated from NOD mice and mice treated with multiple low doses of streptozotocin, as a mouse model of diabetes. INS-1 832/13 beta cells and human islets were treated with IL-1β, IFN-γ and TNF-α to mimic the milieu of early type 1 diabetes. Cells and islets were transfected with miR-21 mimics or inhibitors. Luciferase assays and polyribosomal profiling (PRP) were performed to define miR-21–target interactions. Results: Beta cell miR-21 was increased in in vivo models of type 1 diabetes and cytokine-treated cells/islets. miR-21 overexpression decreased cell count and viability, and increased cleaved caspase 3 levels, suggesting increased cell death. In silico prediction tools identified the antiapoptotic mRNA BCL2 as a conserved miR-21 target. Consistent with this, miR-21 overexpression decreased BCL2 transcript and B cell lymphoma 2 (BCL2) protein production, while miR-21 inhibition increased BCL2 protein levels and reduced cleaved caspase 3 levels after cytokine treatment. miR-21-mediated cell death was abrogated in 828/33 cells, which constitutively overexpress Bcl2. Luciferase assays suggested a direct interaction between miR-21 and the BCL2 3′ untranslated region. With miR-21 overexpression, PRP revealed a shift of the Bcl2 message towards monosome-associated fractions, indicating inhibition of Bcl2 translation. Finally, overexpression in dispersed human islets confirmed a reduction in BCL2 transcripts and increased cleaved caspase 3 production. Conclusions/interpretation: In contrast to the pro-survival role reported in other systems, our results demonstrate that miR-21 increases beta cell death via BCL2 transcript degradation and inhibition of BCL2 translation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1057-1065
Number of pages9
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017


  • Animal – mouse
  • Basic science
  • Beta cell signal transduction
  • Cell lines
  • Islet degeneration and damage
  • Islets

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism

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