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1.  Isl1 Directly Controls a Cholinergic Neuronal Identity in the Developing Forebrain and Spinal Cord by Forming Cell Type-Specific Complexes 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(4):e1004280.
The establishment of correct neurotransmitter characteristics is an essential step of neuronal fate specification in CNS development. However, very little is known about how a battery of genes involved in the determination of a specific type of chemical-driven neurotransmission is coordinately regulated during vertebrate development. Here, we investigated the gene regulatory networks that specify the cholinergic neuronal fates in the spinal cord and forebrain, specifically, spinal motor neurons (MNs) and forebrain cholinergic neurons (FCNs). Conditional inactivation of Isl1, a LIM homeodomain factor expressed in both differentiating MNs and FCNs, led to a drastic loss of cholinergic neurons in the developing spinal cord and forebrain. We found that Isl1 forms two related, but distinct types of complexes, the Isl1-Lhx3-hexamer in MNs and the Isl1-Lhx8-hexamer in FCNs. Interestingly, our genome-wide ChIP-seq analysis revealed that the Isl1-Lhx3-hexamer binds to a suite of cholinergic pathway genes encoding the core constituents of the cholinergic neurotransmission system, such as acetylcholine synthesizing enzymes and transporters. Consistently, the Isl1-Lhx3-hexamer directly coordinated upregulation of cholinergic pathways genes in embryonic spinal cord. Similarly, in the developing forebrain, the Isl1-Lhx8-hexamer was recruited to the cholinergic gene battery and promoted cholinergic gene expression. Furthermore, the expression of the Isl1-Lhx8-complex enabled the acquisition of cholinergic fate in embryonic stem cell-derived neurons. Together, our studies show a shared molecular mechanism that determines the cholinergic neuronal fate in the spinal cord and forebrain, and uncover an important gene regulatory mechanism that directs a specific neurotransmitter identity in vertebrate CNS development.
Author Summary
Neurons utilize various chemicals to transmit signals to a target cell. Distinct types of neurons in the spinal cord and forebrain, collectively termed cholinergic neurons, utilize the same chemical, acetylcholine, for signal transmission. These neurons play critical roles in controlling locomotion and cognition. In this study, we have found that the Isl1 gene orchestrates the process to generate cholinergic neurons in the spinal cord and forebrain. Isl1 forms two different types of multi-protein complexes in the spinal cord and forebrain. Both complexes bind the same genomic regions in a group of genes critical for cholinergic signal transmission, and promote their simultaneous expression. These cholinergic genes include enzymes that synthesize acetylcholine and proteins required to package acetylcholine into vesicles. The Isl1-containing multi-protein complexes were able to trigger the generation of cholinergic neurons in embryonic stem cells and neural stem cells. Our study reveals crucial mechanisms to coordinate the expression of genes in the same biological pathway in different cell types. Furthermore, it suggests a new strategy to produce cholinergic neurons from stem cells.
PMCID: PMC3998908  PMID: 24763339
2.  Functional Cardiomyocytes Derived from Isl1 Cardiac Progenitors via Bmp4 Stimulation 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(12):e110752.
As heart failure due to myocardial infarction remains a leading cause of morbidity worldwide, cell-based cardiac regenerative therapy using cardiac progenitor cells (CPCs) could provide a potential treatment for the repair of injured myocardium. As adult CPCs may have limitations regarding tissue accessibility and proliferative ability, CPCs derived from embryonic stem cells (ESCs) could serve as an unlimited source of cells with high proliferative ability. As one of the CPCs that can be derived from embryonic stem cells, Isl1 expressing cardiac progenitor cells (Isl1-CPCs) may serve as a valuable source of cells for cardiac repair due to their high cardiac differentiation potential and authentic cardiac origin. In order to generate an unlimited number of Isl1-CPCs, we used a previously established an ESC line that allows for isolation of Isl1-CPCs by green fluorescent protein (GFP) expression that is directed by the mef2c gene, specifically expressed in the Isl1 domain of the anterior heart field. To improve the efficiency of cardiac differentiation of Isl1-CPCs, we studied the role of Bmp4 in cardiogenesis of Isl1-CPCs. We show an inductive role of Bmp directly on cardiac progenitors and its enhancement on early cardiac differentiation of CPCs. Upon induction of Bmp4 to Isl1-CPCs during differentiation, the cTnT+ cardiomyocyte population was enhanced 2.8±0.4 fold for Bmp4 treated CPC cultures compared to that detected for vehicle treated cultures. Both Bmp4 treated and untreated cardiomyocytes exhibit proper electrophysiological and calcium signaling properties. In addition, we observed a significant increase in Tbx5 and Tbx20 expression in differentiation cultures treated with Bmp4 compared to the untreated control, suggesting a link between Bmp4 and Tbx genes which may contribute to the enhanced cardiac differentiation in Bmp4 treated cultures. Collectively these findings suggest a cardiomyogenic role for Bmp4 directly on a pure population of Isl1 expressing cardiac progenitors, which could lead to enhancement of cardiac differentiation and engraftment, holding a significant therapeutic value for cardiac repair in the future.
PMCID: PMC4270687  PMID: 25522363
3.  Endocrine Secretory Reserve and Proinsulin Processing in Recipients of Islet of Langerhans Versus Whole Pancreas Transplants 
Diabetes Care  2013;36(11):3726-3731.
β-Cells have demonstrated altered proinsulin processing after islet transplantation. We compare β-cell metabolic responses and proinsulin processing in pancreas and islet transplant recipients with respect to healthy control subjects.
We studied 15 islet and 32 pancreas transplant recipients. Islet subjects were subdivided into insulin-requiring (IR-ISL, n = 6) and insulin-independent (II-ISL, n = 9) groups. Ten healthy subjects served as control subjects. Subjects were administered an intravenous arginine stimulation test, and insulin, C-peptide, total proinsulin, intact proinsulin, and proinsulin fragment levels were determined from serum samples. Acute insulin response (AIR) and proinsulin processing rates were calculated.
We found that basal insulin and C-peptide levels were higher in the pancreas group than in all other groups. II-ISL patients had basal insulin and C-peptide levels similar to healthy control subjects. The IR-ISL group had significantly lower AIRs than all other groups. Basal processing rates were higher in the pancreas and II-ISL groups than in healthy control subjects and the IR-ISL group. After arginine stimulation, all groups had elevated processing rates, with the exception of the IR-ISL group.
Our data suggest that II-ISL transplant recipients can maintain basal metabolic parameters similar to healthy control subjects at the cost of a higher rate of proinsulin processing. IR-ISL transplant recipients, on the other hand, demonstrate both lower insulin response and lower basal rates of proinsulin processing even after arginine stimulation.
PMCID: PMC3816861  PMID: 24041681
4.  Cell type and tissue specific function of islet genes in zebrafish pancreas development 
Developmental Biology  2013;378(1):25-37.
Isl1 is a LIM homeobox transcription factor showing conserved expression in the developing and mature vertebrate pancreas. So far, functions of pancreatic Isl1 have mainly been studied in the mouse, where Isl1 has independent functions during formation of exocrine and endocrine tissues. Here, we take advantage of a recently described isl1 mutation in zebrafish to address pancreatic isl1 functions in a non-mammalian system. Isl1 in zebrafish, as in mouse, shows transient expression in mesenchyme flanking the pancreatic endoderm, and continuous expression in all endocrine cells. In isl1 mutants, endocrine cells are specified in normal numbers but more than half of these cells fail to establish expression of endocrine hormones. By using a lineage tracking approach that highlights cells leaving cell cycle early in development, we show that isl1 functions are different in first and second wave endocrine cells. In isl1 mutants, early forming first wave cells show virtually no glucagon expression and a reduced number of cells expressing insulin and somatostatin, while in the later born second wave cells somatostatin expressing cells are strongly reduced and insulin and glucagon positive cells form in normal numbers. Isl1 mutant zebrafish also display a smaller exocrine pancreas. We find that isl1 expression in the pancreatic mesenchyme overlaps with that of the related genes isl2a and isl2b and that pancreatic expression of isl-genes is independent of each other. As a combined block of two or three isl1/2 genes results in a dose-dependent reduction of exocrine tissue, our data suggest that all three genes cooperatively contribute to non-cell autonomous exocrine pancreas extension. The normal expression of the pancreas mesenchyme markers meis3, fgf10 and fgf24 in isl1/2 depleted embryos suggests that this activity is independent of isl-gene function in pancreatic mesenchyme formation as was found in mouse. This indicates species-specific differences in the requirement for isl-genes in pancreatic mesenchyme formation. Overall, our data reveal a novel interaction of isl1 and isl2 genes in exocrine pancreas expansion and cell type specific requirements during endocrine cell maturation.
• Overlapping functions of islet1, islet2a and islet2b in exocrine pancreas formation.•  Islet1/2a/2b are not required for pancreatic mesenchyme formation.• Islet1 but not islet2a/b is required for endocrine cell maturation.• Endocrine cell types are differently affected by the loss of islet1.
PMCID: PMC3657195  PMID: 23518338
Islet1; Islet2; Lim homeodomain; Pancreas; Exocrine; Endocrine; Insulin; Glucagon; Zebrafish
5.  Driving vascular endothelial cell fate of human multipotent Isl1+ heart progenitors with VEGF modified mRNA 
Cell Research  2013;23(10):1172-1186.
Distinct families of multipotent heart progenitors play a central role in the generation of diverse cardiac, smooth muscle and endothelial cell lineages during mammalian cardiogenesis. The identification of precise paracrine signals that drive the cell-fate decision of these multipotent progenitors, and the development of novel approaches to deliver these signals in vivo, are critical steps towards unlocking their regenerative therapeutic potential. Herein, we have identified a family of human cardiac endothelial intermediates located in outflow tract of the early human fetal hearts (OFT-ECs), characterized by coexpression of Isl1 and CD144/vWF. By comparing angiocrine factors expressed by the human OFT-ECs and non-cardiac ECs, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-A was identified as the most abundantly expressed factor, and clonal assays documented its ability to drive endothelial specification of human embryonic stem cell (ESC)-derived Isl1+ progenitors in a VEGF receptor-dependent manner. Human Isl1-ECs (endothelial cells differentiated from hESC-derived ISL1+ progenitors) resemble OFT-ECs in terms of expression of the cardiac endothelial progenitor- and endocardial cell-specific genes, confirming their organ specificity. To determine whether VEGF-A might serve as an in vivo cell-fate switch for human ESC-derived Isl1-ECs, we established a novel approach using chemically modified mRNA as a platform for transient, yet highly efficient expression of paracrine factors in cardiovascular progenitors. Overexpression of VEGF-A promotes not only the endothelial specification but also engraftment, proliferation and survival (reduced apoptosis) of the human Isl1+ progenitors in vivo. The large-scale derivation of cardiac-specific human Isl1-ECs from human pluripotent stem cells, coupled with the ability to drive endothelial specification, engraftment, and survival following transplantation, suggest a novel strategy for vascular regeneration in the heart.
PMCID: PMC3790234  PMID: 24018375
cardiovascular progenitors; endothelial cells; Isl1; mRNA; VEGF-A
6.  Islet1-expressing cardiac progenitor cells: a comparison across species 
Development Genes and Evolution  2012;223(1-2):117-129.
Adult mammalian cardiac stem cells express the LIM-homeodomain transcription factor Islet1 (Isl1). They are considered remnants of Isl1-positive embryonic cardiac progenitor cells. During amniote heart development, Isl1-positive progenitor cells give rise mainly to the outflow tract, the right ventricle, and parts of the atria. This led to the hypothesis that the development of the right ventricle of the amniote heart depends on the recruitment of additional cells to the primary heart tube. The region from which these additional, Isl1-positive cells originate is called second heart field, as opposed to the first heart field whose cells form the primary heart tube. Here, we review the available data about Isl1 in different species, demonstrating that Isl1 is an important component of the core transcription factor network driving early cardiogenesis in animals of the two clades, deuterostomes, and protostomes. The data support the view of a single cardiac progenitor cell population that includes Isl1-expressing cells and which differentiates into the various cardiac lineages during embryonic development in vertebrates but not in other phyla of the animal kingdom.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00427-012-0400-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3552366  PMID: 22526874
Islet1; Heart development; Cardiac progenitor cell; Cardiac stem cell
7.  ISL-1 is overexpressed in non-Hodgkin lymphoma and promotes lymphoma cell proliferation by forming a p-STAT3/p-c-Jun/ISL-1 complex 
Molecular Cancer  2014;13:181.
Insulin enhancer binding protein-1 (ISL-1), a LIM-homeodomain transcription factor, is essential for the heart, motor neuron and pancreas development. Recently, ISL-1 has been found in some types of human cancers. However, how ISL-1 exerts the role in tumor development is not clear.
Methods and results
The expression of ISL-1 was assessed in 211 human lymphoma samples and 23 normal lymph node samples. Immunohistochemistry results demonstrated a markedly higher expression of ISL-1 in 75% of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) samples compared with that in normal lymph nodes or Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) samples. CCK-8 analysis, cell cycle assay and xenograft model were performed to characterize the association between ISL-1 expression level and biological functions in NHL. The results showed that ISL-1 overexpression obviously promoted NHL cells proliferation, changed the cell cycle distribution in vitro and significantly enhanced xenografted lymphoma development in vivo. Real-time PCR, Western blot, luciferase assay and ChIP assay were used to explore the potential regulatory targets of ISL-1 and the results demonstrated that ISL-1 activated the c-Myc expression in NHL by direct binding to a conserved binding site on the c-Myc enhancer. Further results revealed that ISL-1 could be positively regulated by the c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) and the Janus kinase/signal transducer and activator of transcription (JAK/STAT) pathways. Both the JNK and JAK/STAT signaling inhibitors could significantly suppressed the growth of NHL cells through the down-regulation of ISL-1 as demonstrated by CCK-8 and Western blot assays. Bioinformatic analysis and luciferase assay exhibited that ISL-1 was a novel target of p-STAT3 and p-c-jun. ChIP, Co-IP and ChIP-re-IP analysis revealed that ISL-1 could participate with p-STAT3 and p-c-Jun to form a p-STAT3/p-c-Jun/ISL-1 transcriptional complex that binds directly on the ISL-1 promoter, demonstrating a positive feedback regulatory mechanism for ISL-1 expression in NHL.
Our results provide the first evidence that ISL-1 is tightly linked to NHL proliferation and development by promoting c-Myc transcription, and its aberrant expression was regulated by p-STAT3/p-c-Jun/ISL-1 complex activation.
PMCID: PMC4125377  PMID: 25070240
ISL-1; Lymphomagenesis; Signal transduction; Transcriptional complex
8.  Islet-1 is Required for the Maturation, Proliferation, and Survival of the Endocrine Pancreas 
Diabetes  2009;58(9):2059-2069.
The generation of mature cell types during pancreatic development depends on the expression of many regulatory and signaling proteins. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that the transcriptional regulator Islet-1 (Isl-1), whose expression is first detected in the mesenchyme and epithelium of the developing pancreas and is later restricted to mature islet cells, is involved in the terminal differentiation of islet cells and maintenance of islet mass.
To investigate the role of Isl-1 in the pancreatic epithelium during the secondary transition, Isl-1 was conditionally and specifically deleted from embryonic day 13.5 onward using Cre/LoxP technology.
Isl-1–deficient endocrine precursors failed to mature into functional islet cells. The postnatal expansion of endocrine cell mass was impaired, and consequently Isl-1 deficient mice were diabetic. In addition, MafA, a potent regulator of the Insulin gene and β-cell function, was identified as a direct transcriptional target of Isl-1.
These results demonstrate the requirement for Isl-1 in the maturation, proliferation, and survival of the second wave of hormone-producing islet cells.
PMCID: PMC2731519  PMID: 19502415
9.  Wnt/β-catenin signaling promotes expansion of Isl-1–positive cardiac progenitor cells through regulation of FGF signaling 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2007;117(7):1794-1804.
The anterior heart field (AHF), which contributes to the outflow tract and right ventricle of the heart, is defined in part by expression of the LIM homeobox transcription factor Isl-1. The importance of Isl-1–positive cells in cardiac development and homeostasis is underscored by the finding that these cells are required for cardiac development and act as cardiac stem/progenitor cells within the postnatal heart. However, the molecular pathways regulating these cells’ expansion and differentiation are poorly understood. We show that Isl-1–positive AHF progenitor cells in mice were responsive to Wnt/β-catenin signaling, and these responsive cells contributed to the outflow tract and right ventricle of the heart. Loss of Wnt/β-catenin signaling in the AHF caused defective outflow tract and right ventricular development with a decrease in Isl-1–positive progenitors and loss of FGF signaling. Conversely, Wnt gain of function in these cells led to expansion of Isl-1–positive progenitors with a concomitant increase in FGF signaling through activation of a specific set of FGF ligands including FGF3, FGF10, FGF16, and FGF20. These data reveal what we believe to be a novel Wnt-FGF signaling axis required for expansion of Isl-1–positive AHF progenitors and suggest future therapies to increase the number and function of these cells for cardiac regeneration.
PMCID: PMC1891000  PMID: 17607356
10.  Characterization and Therapeutic Potential of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell-Derived Cardiovascular Progenitor Cells 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e45603.
Cardiovascular progenitor cells (CPCs) have been identified within the developing mouse heart and differentiating pluripotent stem cells by intracellular transcription factors Nkx2.5 and Islet 1 (Isl1). Study of endogenous and induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived CPCs has been limited due to the lack of specific cell surface markers to isolate them and conditions for their in vitro expansion that maintain their multipotency.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We sought to identify specific cell surface markers that label endogenous embryonic CPCs and validated these markers in iPSC-derived Isl1+/Nkx2.5+ CPCs. We developed conditions that allow propagation and characterization of endogenous and iPSC-derived Isl1+/Nkx2.5+ CPCs and protocols for their clonal expansion in vitro and transplantation in vivo. Transcriptome analysis of CPCs from differentiating mouse embryonic stem cells identified a panel of surface markers. Comparison of these markers as well as previously described surface markers revealed the combination of Flt1+/Flt4+ best identified and facilitated enrichment for Isl1+/Nkx2.5+ CPCs from embryonic hearts and differentiating iPSCs. Endogenous mouse and iPSC-derived Flt1+/Flt4+ CPCs differentiated into all three cardiovascular lineages in vitro. Flt1+/Flt4+ CPCs transplanted into left ventricles demonstrated robust engraftment and differentiation into mature cardiomyocytes (CMs).
The cell surface marker combination of Flt1 and Flt4 specifically identify and enrich for an endogenous and iPSC-derived Isl1+/Nkx2.5+ CPC with trilineage cardiovascular potential in vitro and robust ability for engraftment and differentiation into morphologically and electrophysiologically mature adult CMs in vivo post transplantation into adult hearts.
PMCID: PMC3467279  PMID: 23056209
11.  Isoliquiritigenin-Induced Differentiation in Mouse Melanoma B16F0 Cell Line 
The chemotherapeutical treatment is very limited for malignant melanoma, a highly lethal disease occurs globally. Natural products derived from traditional Chinese medicine licorice are attractive in quest new treatments due to their anti-tumor activities. A new dietary flavonoid isoliquiritigenin (ISL) were thus investigated to indentify its anti-melanoma activities on mouse melanoma B16F0 cells in present study. Using biochemical and free radical biological experiments in vitro, we identified the pro-differentiated profiles of ISL and evaluated the role of reactive oxygen species (ROS) during B16F0 cell differentiation. The data showed a strong dose-response relationship between ISL exposure and the characteristics of B16F0 differentiation in terms of morphology changes and melanogenesis. The accumulated intercellular ROS during exposure are necessary to support ISL-induced differentiation, which was proven by additional redox modulators. It was confirmed further by the relative activities of enzymes and genes modulated melanogenesis in ISL-treatments with or without ROS modulators. The tumorigenicity of ISL-treated cells was limited significantly by using the colony formation assay in vitro and an animal model assay in vivo respectively. Our research demonstrated that isoliquiritigenin is a differentiation-inducing agent, and its mechanisms involve ROS accumulation facilitating melanogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3529869  PMID: 23304254
12.  Isolation, Characterization, and Spatial Distribution of Cardiac Progenitor Cells in the Sheep Heart 
Laboratory large animal models are important for establishing the efficacy of stem cell therapies that may be translated into clinical use. The similarity of ovine and human cardiovascular systems provides an opportunity to use the sheep as a large animal model in which to optimize cell-based treatments for the heart. Recent clinical trials in humans using endogenous cardiovascular progenitor cells report significant improvement in cardiac function following stem cell-based therapy. To date, however, endogenous cardiovascular progenitor cells have not been isolated from the sheep heart.
Cardiovascular cells expressing SSEA-4, CD105 and c-kit were isolated by flow cytometry and cloned from the right atrium of neonatal sheep. The expression of GATA-4, c-kit, and Isl1 was identified by PCR in the cloned cells. Immunohistochemical staining was used to compare the number of SSEA-4 positive cells in the right auricle, right atrium, left ventricle and the apex of the heart of fetal, neonatal and adult sheep. The number of SSEA4+cells was also compared in fetal, pregnant and non-pregnant adult sheep.
Four distinct cardiac progenitor cell sub-populations were identified in sheep, including CD105+SSEA-4+c-kit+Isl1+GATA-4+cells, CD105+SSEA-4+c-kit+Isl1+GATA-4−cells, CD105+SSEA-4−c-kit-Isl1+GATA-4−cells, and CD105+SSEA-4−c-kit+Isl1+GATA-4−cells. Immunohistochemical staining for SSEA-4 showed that labeled cells were most abundant in the right atrium of fetal hearts where niches of progenitor cells could be identified.
We determined the phenotype and distribution of cardiac progenitor cells in the sheep heart. The availability of cloned endogenous cardiac progenitor cells from sheep will provide a valuable resource for optimizing the conditions for cardiac repair in the ovine model.
PMCID: PMC3607208  PMID: 23539675
Stem cells; Cardiovascular; Ovine
13.  Metastatic prostate cancer cell-specific phage-like particles as a targeted gene-delivery system 
One of the cardinal requirements for effective therapeutic management of tumors is the selective delivery of cancer drugs to the right site by ligand-decorated nanomedicines. Screening of 2 × 109 clone landscape phage library provides a reliable avenue for generating protein ligands specific for tumor cells. It was shown that selective phage proteins derived from landscape phage libraries against breast and prostate cancer cells are able to navigate drug or siRNA loaded liposomes to corresponding cancer cells with minimal toxicity to non-neoplastic cells. In an alternative platform, glioma cell-specific phage proteins were used for assembling in vivo cancer-specific phage-like particles, named ‘phagemid infective particles’ as targeted gene-delivery vehicles.
To extend the panel of anticancer cell phages, we have screened a 2 × 109 clone landscape phage library f8/8 to select phage clones specific for metastatic prostate cancer cell PC-3M. The phage clones were characterized for their selective interaction with PC-3M cells using phage capture assay, immunofluorescence microscopy and electron microscopy. A prostate cancer selective phage was converted to phage-like particles harboring emerald green fluorescent protein.
Phage clone EPTHSWAT (designated by the sequence of inserted peptide) was found to be most selective for PC-3M cells and was observed to internalize PC-3M cells as revealed by immunofluorescence microscopy and electron microscopy. Conversion of this phage to phage-like particles harboring emerald green fluorescent protein and the expression of emerald green fluorescent protein in the phage-like particles treated PC-3M cells showed potential of adoption of this phage-like particle in prostate cancer therapeutic gene delivery.
Successful employment of phage-like particles expressing emerald green fluorescent protein genes targeted to prostate cancer cells PC-3M confirms a prospect of their use for targeted delivery of therapeutic genes to cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC3849713  PMID: 24059645
Phage-like particles; Prostate cancer; Phage; Gene-delivery
14.  Islet1 and Its Co-Factor Ldb1 Are Expressed in Quiescent Cells of Mouse Intestinal Epithelium 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e95256.
Islet1 belongs to Lim homeobox (Lhx) gene family which encodes transcription factors that have been conserved in evolution. They form complexes with other transcriptional regulators, among them obligatory co-factors encoded by Ldb genes. Isl1 (Islet1), Lhx and Ldb1 genes play a crucial role in organ patterning, cell fate determination and cell differentiation in both embryonic and adult tissues. In this study we analyzed expression pattern of Isl1 and its co-factor Ldb1 in small intestine. We also studied the biological role of Ldb1 in gut endoderm. Quantitative PCR analysis revealed a relatively high level of expression of Lhx1, Isl1, Isl2, Lmx1a, Ldb1 and Ldb2 mRNAs in the gut tissue as compared to the level of less abundant detectable Lmx1b mRNA. Immunohistochemical studies demonstrated a unique pattern of Ldb1 and Islet1 proteins in the crypt compartment. Ldb1 is produced at a low level in majority of crypt cells; but, its abundant expression was demonstrated for some single cells. Islet1 is also expressed in single cells of the crypt. Double staining experiments with Ldb1 and Isl1 antibodies showed that both genes are co-expressed in certain cells of the crypt. Further analysis revealed the Ldb1-expressing cells in the gut are both of endodermal and mesodermal origin. Proliferation studies using antibodies to phospho-histone H3 and Ki-67 antigens, as well as long-term BrdU labeling, showed that cells prominently expressing Ldb1/Islet1 are quiescent but do not belong to any known terminally differentiated cell lineages. They may represent a group of stem-like cells in the crypt. Further experiments by cell lineage tracing should be performed to better characterize this cell population. Functional studies of mice with Ldb1 gene ablated in gut endoderm revealed no specific role of Ldb1 in that tissue.
PMCID: PMC3995853  PMID: 24755910
15.  Dendritic and axonal targeting patterns of a genetically-specified class of retinal ganglion cells that participate in image-forming circuits 
Neural Development  2014;9:2.
There are numerous functional types of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), each participating in circuits that encode a specific aspect of the visual scene. This functional specificity is derived from distinct RGC morphologies and selective synapse formation with other retinal cell types; yet, how these properties are established during development remains unclear. Islet2 (Isl2) is a LIM-homeodomain transcription factor expressed in the developing retina, including approximately 40% of all RGCs, and has previously been implicated in the subtype specification of spinal motor neurons. Based on this, we hypothesized that Isl2+ RGCs represent a related subset that share a common function.
We morphologically and molecularly characterized Isl2+ RGCs using a transgenic mouse line that expresses GFP in the cell bodies, dendrites and axons of Isl2+ cells (Isl2-GFP). Isl2-GFP RGCs have distinct morphologies and dendritic stratification patterns within the inner plexiform layer and project to selective visual nuclei. Targeted filling of individual cells reveals that the majority of Isl2-GFP RGCs have dendrites that are monostratified in layer S3 of the IPL, suggesting they are not ON-OFF direction-selective ganglion cells. Molecular analysis shows that most alpha-RGCs, indicated by expression of SMI-32, are also Isl2-GFP RGCs. Isl2-GFP RGCs project to most retino-recipient nuclei during early development, but specifically innervate the dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus and superior colliculus (SC) at eye opening. Finally, we show that the segregation of Isl2+ and Isl2- RGC axons in the SC leads to the segregation of functional RGC types.
Taken together, these data suggest that Isl2+ RGCs comprise a distinct class and support a role for Isl2 as an important component of a transcription factor code specifying functional visual circuits. Furthermore, this study describes a novel genetically-labeled mouse line that will be a valuable resource in future investigations of the molecular mechanisms of visual circuit formation.
PMCID: PMC3937143  PMID: 24495295
16.  Expression of Isl1 during mouse development 
Gene expression patterns : GEP  2013;13(8):407-412.
The LIM-homeodomain transcription factor Isl1 plays essential roles in cell proliferation, differentiation and survival during embryogenesis. To better visualize Isl1 expression and provide insight into the role of Isl1 during development, we generated an Isl1 nuclear LacZ (nLacZ) knockin mouse line and analyzed Isl1nlacZ expression during development by Xgal staining and compared expression of Isl1nlacZ with endogenous Isl1 by coimmunostaining with antibodies to Isl1 and β-galactosidase. Results demonstrated that during development Isl1 nuclear LacZ is expressed in a pattern that recapitulates its endogenous protein expression. Consistent with previous in situ and immunohistochemistry data, we observed Isl1nlacZ expression in multiple tissues and cell types, including the central and peripheral nervous system, neural retina, inner ear, pharyngeal mesoderm and endoderm and their derivatives (craniofacial structures, thymus, thyroid gland and trachea), cardiovascular system (cardiac outflow tract, carotid arteries, umbilical vessels, sinoatrial node and atrial septum), gastrointestinal system (oral epithelium, stomach, pancreas, mesentery) and hindlimb. In some cases, Isl1nlacZ appears to be more readily detectable than Isl1 protein when expression level is low, and in others, Isl1nlacZ appears to act as a lineage tracer, likely owing to perdurance of the nuclear localized beta-galactosidase.
PMCID: PMC4134129  PMID: 23906961
Isl1; LIM-homeodomain; transgenic; gene expression; development
17.  Islet 1 is Expressed in Distinct Cardiovascular Lineages, Including Pacemaker and Coronary Vascular Cells 
Developmental biology  2006;304(1):286-296.
Islet1 (Isl1) is a LIM homedomain protein that plays a pivotal role in cardiac progenitors of the second heart field. Here, lineage studies with an inducible isl1-cre demonstrated that most Isl1 progenitors have migrated into the heart by E9. Although Isl1 expression is downregulated in most cardiac progenitors as they differentiate, analysis of an isl1-nlacZ mouse and coimmunostaining for Isl1 and lineage markers demonstrated that Isl1 is expressed in distinct subdomains of the heart, and in diverse cardiovascular lineages. Isl1 expression was observed in myocardial lineages of the distal outflow tract, atrial septum, and in sinoatrial and atrioventricular node. The myocardialized septum of the outflow tract was found to derive from Isl1 expressing cells. Isl1 expressing cells also contribute to endothelial and vascular smooth muscle lineages including smooth muscle of the coronary vessels. Our data indicate that Isl1 is a specific marker for a subset of pacemaker cells at developmental stages examined, and suggest genetic heterogeneity within the central conduction system and coronary smooth muscle. Our studies suggest a role for Isl1 in these distinct domains of expression within the heart.
PMCID: PMC2582044  PMID: 17258700
Cardiac progenitor; Lineage; Isl1; pacemaker; Coronary smooth muscle; Tamoxifen; Inducible Cre
18.  Distinct origins and genetic programs of head muscle satellite cells 
Developmental cell  2009;16(6):822-832.
Adult skeletal muscle possesses a remarkable regenerative capacity, due to the presence of satellite cells, adult muscle stem cells. We used fate-mapping techniques in avian and mouse models to show that trunk (Pax3+) and cranial (MesP1+) skeletal muscle and satellite cells derive from separate genetic lineages. Similar lineage heterogeneity is seen within the head musculature and satellite cells, due to their shared, heterogenic embryonic origins. Lineage tracing experiments with Isl1Cre mice demonstrated the robust contribution of Isl1+ cells to distinct jaw muscle-derived satellite cells. Transplantation of myofiber-associated Isl1-derived satellite cells into damaged limb muscle contributed to muscle regeneration. In vitro experiments demonstrated the cardiogenic nature of cranial- but not trunk-derived satellite cells. Finally, overexpression of Isl1 in the branchiomeric muscles of chick embryos inhibited skeletal muscle differentiation in vitro and in vivo, suggesting that this gene plays a role in the specification of cardiovascular and skeletal muscle stem cell progenitors.
PMCID: PMC3684422  PMID: 19531353
Satellite cells; splanchnic mesoderm; cardiogenesis; myogenesis
19.  ISL1 Protein Transduction Promotes Cardiomyocyte Differentiation from Human Embryonic Stem Cells 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e55577.
Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) have the potential to provide an unlimited source of cardiomyocytes, which are invaluable resources for drug or toxicology screening, medical research, and cell therapy. Currently a number of obstacles exist such as the insufficient efficiency of differentiation protocols, which should be overcome before hESC-derived cardiomyocytes can be used for clinical applications. Although the differentiation efficiency can be improved by the genetic manipulation of hESCs to over-express cardiac-specific transcription factors, these differentiated cells are not safe enough to be applied in cell therapy. Protein transduction has been demonstrated as an alternative approach for increasing the efficiency of hESCs differentiation toward cardiomyocytes.
We present an efficient protocol for the differentiation of hESCs in suspension by direct introduction of a LIM homeodomain transcription factor, Islet1 (ISL1) recombinant protein into the cells.
We found that the highest beating clusters were derived by continuous treatment of hESCs with 40 µg/ml recombinant ISL1 protein during days 1–8 after the initiation of differentiation. The treatment resulted in up to a 3-fold increase in the number of beating areas. In addition, the number of cells that expressed cardiac specific markers (cTnT, CONNEXIN 43, ACTININ, and GATA4) doubled. This protocol was also reproducible for another hESC line.
This study has presented a new, efficient, and reproducible procedure for cardiomyocytes differentiation. Our results will pave the way for scaled up and controlled differentiation of hESCs to be used for biomedical applications in a bioreactor culture system.
PMCID: PMC3559537  PMID: 23383231
20.  A Regulatory Pathway Involving Notch1/β-Catenin/Isl1 Determines Cardiac Progenitor Cell Fate 
Nature cell biology  2009;11(8):951-957.
The regulation of multipotent cardiac progenitor cell (CPC) expansion and subsequent differentiation into cardiomyocytes, smooth muscle, or endothelial cells is a fundamental aspect of basic cardiovascular biology and cardiac regenerative medicine. However, the mechanisms governing these decisions remain unclear. Here, we show that Wnt/β-Catenin signaling, which promotes expansion of CPCs1–3, is negatively regulated by Notch1-mediated control of phosphorylated β-Catenin accumulation within CPCs, and that Notch1 activity in CPCs is required for their differentiation. Notch1 positively, and β-Catenin negatively, regulated expression of the cardiac transcription factors, Isl1, Myocd and Smyd1. Surprisingly, disruption of Isl1, normally expressed transiently in CPCs prior to their differentiation4, resulted in expansion of CPCs in vivo and in an embryonic stem (ES) cell system. Furthermore, Isl1 was required for CPC differentiation into cardiomyocyte and smooth muscle cells, but not endothelial cells. These findings reveal a regulatory network controlling CPC expansion and cell fate that involve unanticipated functions of β-Catenin, Notch1 and Isl1 that may be leveraged for regenerative approaches involving CPCs.
PMCID: PMC2748816  PMID: 19620969
β-Catenin; Notch1; Isl1; cardiac progenitors; Myocd
21.  Synergistic binding of transcription factors to cell-specific enhancers programs motor neuron identity 
Nature neuroscience  2013;16(9):10.1038/nn.3467.
Efficient transcriptional programming promises to open new frontiers in regenerative medicine. However, mechanisms by which programming factors transform cell fate are unknown, preventing more rational selection of factors to generate desirable cell types. Three transcription factors, Ngn2, Isl1 and Lhx3, were sufficient to program rapidly and efficiently spinal motor neuron identity when expressed in differentiating mouse embryonic stem cells. Replacement of Lhx3 by Phox2a led to specification of cranial, rather than spinal, motor neurons. Chromatin immunoprecipitation–sequencing analysis of Isl1, Lhx3 and Phox2a binding sites revealed that the two cell fates were programmed by the recruitment of Isl1-Lhx3 and Isl1-Phox2a complexes to distinct genomic locations characterized by a unique grammar of homeodomain binding motifs. Our findings suggest that synergistic interactions among transcription factors determine the specificity of their recruitment to cell type–specific binding sites and illustrate how a single transcription factor can be repurposed to program different cell types.
PMCID: PMC3820498  PMID: 23872598
22.  Atoh7 promotes the differentiation of retinal stem cells derived from Müller cells into retinal ganglion cells by inhibiting Notch signaling 
Retinal Müller cells exhibit the characteristics of retinal progenitor cells, and differentiate into ganglion cells under certain conditions. However, the number of ganglion cells differentiated from retinal Müller cells falls far short of therapeutic needs. This study aimed to develop a novel protocol to promote the differentiation of retinal Müller cells into ganglion cells and explore the underlying signaling mechanisms.
Müller cells were isolated and purified from rat retina and induced to dedifferentiate into retinal stem cells. Next the stem cells were transfected with lentivirus PGC-FU-GFP or lentivirus PGC-FU-Atoh7-GFP. In addition, the stem cells were transfected with Brn-3b siRNA or Isl-1 siRNA or treated with Notch inhibitor gamma-secretase inhibitor (GSI).
The proportion of ganglion cells differentiated from Atoh7-tranfected stem cells was significantly higher than that of controls. Knockdown of Brn-3b or Isl-1 inhibited, while GSI promoted, the differentiation into retinal ganglion cells. Atoh7 promoted the expression of Brn-3b and Isl-1 but inhibited the expression of Notch1.
Atoh7 promotes the differentiation of Müller cells-derived retinal stem cells into retinal ganglion cells by inhibiting Notch signaling, thus opening up a new avenue for gene therapy and optic nerve regeneration in glaucoma.
PMCID: PMC3854761  PMID: 23945288
Müller cells; Retinal ganglion cells; Atoh7; Notch; Stem cells; Differentiation
23.  ISL1 Promotes Pancreatic Islet Cell Proliferation 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(8):e22387.
Islet 1 (ISL1), a LIM-homeodomain transcription factor is essential for promoting pancreatic islets proliferation and maintaining endocrine cells survival in embryonic and postnatal pancreatic islets. However, how ISL1 exerts the role in adult islets is, to date, not clear.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Our results show that ISL1 expression was up-regulated at the mRNA level both in cultured pancreatic cells undergoing glucose oxidase stimulation as well in type 1 and type 2 diabetes mouse models. The knockdown of ISL1 expression increased the apoptosis level of HIT-T15 pancreatic islet cells. Using HIT-T15 and primary adult islet cells as cell models, we show that ISL1 promoted adult pancreatic islet cell proliferation with increased c-Myc and CyclinD1 transcription, while knockdown of ISL1 increased the proportion of cells in G1 phase and decreased the proportion of cells in G2/M and S phases. Further investigation shows that ISL1 activated both c-Myc and CyclinD1 transcription through direct binding on their promoters.
ISL1 promoted adult pancreatic islet cell proliferation and probably by activating c-Myc and CyclinD1 transcription through direct binding on their promoters. Our findings extend the knowledge about the crucial role of ISL1 in maintaining mature islet cells homeostasis. Our results also provide insights into the new regulation relationships between ISL1 and other growth factors.
PMCID: PMC3150357  PMID: 21829621
24.  Isl1 is a direct transcriptional target of Forkhead transcription factors in second heart field-derived mesoderm 
Developmental biology  2009;334(2):513-522.
The cells of the second heart field (SHF) contribute to the outflow tract and right ventricle, as well as to parts of the left ventricle and atria. Isl1, a member of the LIM-homeodomain transcription factor family, is expressed early in this cardiac progenitor population and functions near the top of a transcriptional pathway essential for heart development. Isl1 is required for the survival and migration of SHF-derived cells into the early developing heart at the inflow and outflow poles. Despite this important role for Isl1 in early heart formation, the transcriptional regulation of Isl1 has remained largely undefined. Therefore, to identify transcription factors that regulate Isl1 expression in vivo, we screened the conserved noncoding sequences from the mouse Isl1 locus for enhancer activity in transgenic mouse embryos. Here, we report the identification of an enhancer from the mouse Isl1 gene that is sufficient to direct expression to the SHF and its derivatives. The Isl1 SHF enhancer contains three consensus Forkhead transcription factor binding sites that are efficiently and specifically bound by Forkhead transcription factors. Importantly, the activity of the enhancer is dependent on these three Forkhead binding sites in transgenic mouse embryos. Thus, these studies demonstrate that Isl1 is a direct transcriptional target of Forkhead transcription factors in the SHF and establish a transcriptional pathway upstream of Isl1 in the SHF.
PMCID: PMC2928383  PMID: 19580802
25.  LIM homeodomain transcription factor Isl1 directs normal pyloric development by targeting Gata3 
BMC Biology  2014;12:25.
Abnormalities in pyloric development or in contractile function of the pylorus cause reflux of duodenal contents into the stomach and increase the risk of gastric metaplasia and cancer. Abnormalities of the pyloric region are also linked to congenital defects such as the relatively common neonatal hypertrophic pyloric stenosis, and primary duodenogastric reflux. Therefore, understanding pyloric development is of great clinical relevance. Here, we investigated the role of the LIM homeodomain transcription factor Isl1 in pyloric development.
Examination of Isl1 expression in developing mouse stomach by immunohistochemistry, whole mount in situ hybridization and real-time quantitative PCR demonstrated that Isl1 is highly expressed in developing mouse stomach, principally in the smooth muscle layer of the pylorus. Isl1 expression was also examined by immunofluorescence in human hypertrophic pyloric stenosis where the majority of smooth muscle cells were found to express Isl1. Isl1 function in embryonic stomach development was investigated utilizing a tamoxifen-inducible Isl1 knockout mouse model. Isl1 deficiency led to nearly complete absence of the pyloric outer longitudinal muscle layer at embryonic day 18.5, which is consistent with Gata3 null mouse phenotype. Chromatin immunoprecipitation, luciferase assays, and electrophoretic mobility shift assays revealed that Isl1 ensures normal pyloric development by directly targeting Gata3.
This study demonstrates that the Isl1-Gata3 transcription regulatory axis is essential for normal pyloric development. These findings are highly clinically relevant and may help to better understand pathways leading to pyloric disease.
PMCID: PMC4021819  PMID: 24674670
α-smooth muscle actin; Gata3; Isl1; Pylorus

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