Stimulation of human and rat islet β-cell proliferation with retention of function by the homeodomain transcription factor Nkx6.1

Jonathan C. Schisler, Patrick T. Fueger, Daniella A. Babu, Hans E. Hohmeier, Jeffery S. Tessem, Danhong Lu, Thomas C. Becker, Bashoo Naziruddin, Marlon Levy, Raghavendra G. Mirmira, Christopher B. Newgard

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74 Scopus citations


The homeodomain transcription factor Nkx6.1 plays an important role in pancreatic islet β-cell development, but its effects on adult β-cell function, survival, and proliferation are not well understood. In the present study, we demonstrated that treatment of primary rat pancreatic islets with a cytomegalovirus promoter-driven recombinant adenovirus containing the Nkx6.1 cDNA (AdCMV-Nkx6.1) causes dramatic increases in [methyl-3H] thymidine and 5-bromo-2′-deoxyuridine (BrdU) incorporation and in the number of cells per islet relative to islets treated with a control adenovirus (AdCMV-βGAL), whereas suppression of Nkx6.1 expression reduces thymidine incorporation. Immunocytochemical studies reveal that >80% of BrdU-positive cells in AdCMV-Nkx6.1-treated islets are β cells. Microarray, real-time PCR, and immunoblot analyses reveal that overexpression of Nkx6.1 in rat islets causes concerted upregulation of a cadre of cell cycle control genes, including those encoding cyclins A, B, and E, and several regulatory kinases. Cyclin E is upregulated earlier than the other cyclins, and adenovirus-mediated overexpression of cyclin E is shown to be sufficient to activate islet cell proliferation. Moreover, chromatin immunoprecipitation assays demonstrate direct interaction of Nkx6.1 with the cyclin A2 and B1 genes. Overexpression of Nkx6.1 in rat islets caused a clear enhancement of glucose-stimulated insulin secretion (GSIS), whereas overexpression of Nkx6.1 in human islets caused an increase in the level of [3H] thymidine incorporation that was twice the control level, along with complete retention of GSIS. We conclude that Nkx6.1 is among the very rare factors capable of stimulating β-cell replication with retention or enhancement of function, properties that may be exploitable for expansion of β-cell mass in treatment of both major forms of diabetes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3465-3476
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular and cellular biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology

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