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BACKGROUND: Gene expression in islets of Langerhans is profoundly sensitive to glucose and other nutrients. Islets of Langerhans in the Anx7(+/-) knockout mouse exhibit a profound reduction in ITPR3 protein expression, defective intracellular calcium signaling, and defective insulin secretion. Additional data presented here also show that mRNA for ITPR3 is virtually undetectable in isolated Anx7(+/-) islets. IP3Receptor type 3 (ITPR3) expression in islets of Langerhans is closely regulated by secretory stimuli, and it has been suggested that the level of the ITPR3 expression controls the ability of the islets to respond to nutritional signals. We report that although control islets respond to glucose in vitro by a transient increment in ITPR3 mRNA, the islets from the Anx7(+/-) mouse remain low. We therefore hypothesized that the Anx7/IP3 Receptor(3)/Ca(2+) signaling pathway plays a role in beta cell responses to glucose, and that in the absence of the Anx7/ITPR3 signaling system, the islets would be unable to discriminate between fed or fasted states in vivo. MATERIALS AND METHODS: To test this hypothesis, we subjected Anx7(+/-) and control mice to either food and water ad libidum or to an overnight fast with access to water only. We then isolated the respective islets and compared nutrient-dependent changes in global gene expression under the four conditions using genome-based microarray technology. RESULTS: Anx7 protein expression in these islets is only about 50% of control levels in normal littermate controls, and IPTR3 message and protein are virtually zero. cDNA microarray analyses show that in control animals gene expression is significantly affected by the fasting state. Many of the affected genes have historical relevance to development and differentiation of islets. These include preproglucagon, APOJ, cadherin2, phosphoglucoisomerase, oncostatin M, PAX6, HGF, and cytokeratin 18. However, there are also many other nutritionally sensitive genes in control islets that are principally associated with cell division and DNA repair. The latter genes have not specifically been associated with islet physiology in the past. By contrast, Anx7(+/-) mouse islets exhibit a greatly reduced ability to discriminate genomically between fed and fasted states for all classes of identified genes. Many of the validated genes are specific to islets in comparison to liver tissue examined. Real-time quantitative RT-PCR analysis of islets from Anx7 heterozygous mice and littermate controls revealed remarkable down-regulation in PTEN, Glut-2, PDX-1, IGF-1, and Neuro D1 expression, but not in liver. CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that reduced gene dosage in the Anx7(+/-) islet, with concomitant loss of ITPR3 expression and consequent defects in Ca(2+) signaling, may substantially contribute to the mechanism of the loss of genomic discrimination, in vivo, between the fed and fasted states. We believe that the requirement for complete Anx7 gene dosage and IPTR3 expression in islets of Langerhans will prove to be of fundamental importance for understanding the mechanism of nutritional sensing in health and disease.