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1.  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
2.  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
3.  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
4.  Islet α-, β-, and δ-Cell Development Is Controlled by the Ldb1 Coregulator, Acting Primarily With the Islet-1 Transcription Factor 
Diabetes  2013;62(3):875-886.
Ldb1 and Ldb2 are coregulators that mediate Lin11-Isl1-Mec3 (LIM)–homeodomain (HD) and LIM-only transcription factor–driven gene regulation. Although both Ldb1 and Ldb2 mRNA were produced in the developing and adult pancreas, immunohistochemical analysis illustrated a broad Ldb1 protein expression pattern during early pancreatogenesis, which subsequently became enriched in islet and ductal cells perinatally. The islet-enriched pattern of Ldb1 was similar to pan-endocrine cell–expressed Islet-1 (Isl1), which was demonstrated in this study to be the primary LIM-HD transcription factor in developing and adult islet cells. Endocrine cell–specific removal of Ldb1 during mouse development resulted in a severe reduction of hormone+ cell numbers (i.e., α, β, and δ) and overt postnatal hyperglycemia, reminiscent of the phenotype described for the Isl1 conditional mutant. In contrast, neither endocrine cell development nor function was affected in the pancreas of Ldb2−/− mice. Gene expression and chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) analyses demonstrated that many important Isl1-activated genes were coregulated by Ldb1, including MafA, Arx, insulin, and Glp1r. However, some genes (i.e., Hb9 and Glut2) only appeared to be impacted by Ldb1 during development. These findings establish Ldb1 as a critical transcriptional coregulator during islet α-, β-, and δ-cell development through Isl1-dependent and potentially Isl1-independent control.
PMCID: PMC3581213  PMID: 23193182
5.  Islet-1 Controls the Differentiation of Retinal Bipolar and Cholinergic Amacrine Cells 
Whereas the mammalian retina possesses a repertoire of factors known to establish general retinal cell types, these factors alone cannot explain the vast diversity of neuronal subtypes. In other CNS regions, the differentiation of diverse neuronal pools is governed by coordinately acting LIM-homeodomain proteins including the Islet-class factor Islet-1 (Isl1). We report that deletion of Isl1 profoundly disrupts retinal function as assessed by electroretinograms and vision as assessed by optomotor behavior. These deficits are coupled with marked reductions in mature ON- and OFF-bipolar (>76%), cholinergic amacrine (93%), and ganglion (71%) cells. Mosaic deletion of Isl1 permitted a chimeric analysis of “wild-type” cells in a predominantly Isl1-null environment, demonstrating a cell-autonomous role for Isl1 in rod bipolar and cholinergic amacrine development. Furthermore, the effects on bipolar cell development appear to be dissociable from the preceding retinal ganglion cell loss, because Pou4f2-null mice are devoid of similar defects in bipolar cell marker expression. Expression of the ON- and OFF-bipolar cell differentiation factors Bhlhb4 and Vsx1, respectively, requires the presence of Isl1, whereas the early bipolar cell marker Prox1 initially did not. Thus, Isl1 is required for engaging bipolar differentiation pathways but not for general bipolar cell specification. Spatiotemporal expression analysis of additional LIM-homeobox genes identifies a LIM-homeobox gene network during bipolar cell development that includes Lhx3 and Lhx4. We conclude that Isl1 has an indispensable role in retinal neuron differentiation within restricted cell populations and this function may reflect a broader role for other LIM-homeobox genes in retinal development, and perhaps in establishing neuronal subtypes.
PMCID: PMC2972590  PMID: 18003851
retina; retinal bipolar cell; transcription factor; differentiation; ERG (electroretinogram); optomotor behavior; amacrine; retinal ganglion cell
6.  Expression of Islet1 Marks the Sensory and Neuronal Lineages in the Mammalian Inner Ear 
Several basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) genes have been shown to be essential for the generation of the auditory sensory hair cells or the spiral ganglion (SG) neurons that innervate the hair cells in the cochlea, as well as a variety of cell types in the other nervous systems. However, it remains elusive what cellular context-dependent mechanisms confer the inner ear–specific neuronal or sensory competency/identities. We explored the possibility that one of the mechanisms responsible for generating cellular diversity in the nervous system through cooperative action of bHLH and LIM-homeodomain (LIM-HD) transcriptional factors might also contribute to the inner ear–specific sensory and/or neuronal competency. Here, we show that Islet1 (Isl1), a LIM-HD protein, is expressed early in the otocyst in the region that gives rise to both the auditory sensory organ, the organ of Corti, and SG neurons. Subsequently, the expression of Isl1 is maintained in SG neurons but is transitory in the sensory lineage. At embryonic day 12 (E12) in mice, the expression of Isl1 marks distinctively the ventral portion of the nascent cochlear epithelium encompassing the primordial organ of Corti. At E13, Isl1 is maintained at relatively high levels in the sensory primordium while down-regulated in the other regions of the cochlear duct. As the sensory epithelium starts to differentiate, it is down-regulated in the entire cochlear epithelium. The expression of Isl1 in the developing inner ear reveals an early and likely a common step in the development of both sensory and neuronal lineages of the inner ear, and suggests its potential role in the inner ear-specific sensory and neuronal cell development.
PMCID: PMC4158841  PMID: 15329890
organ of Corti; spiral ganglion neurons; sensory hair cells; LIM-HD; bHLH; Math1
7.  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
8.  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
9.  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
10.  Expression of the LIM-Homeodomain Protein Isl1 in the Developing and Mature Mouse Retina 
The mammalian retina is comprised of six major neuronal cell types and is subdivided into more morphological and physiological subtypes. The transcriptional machinery underlying these subtype fate choices is largely unknown. The LIM-homeodomain protein, Isl1, plays an essential role in central nervous system (CNS) differentiation but its relationship to retinal neurogenesis remains unknown. We report here its dynamic spatiotemporal expression in the mouse retina. Among bipolar interneurons, Isl1 expression commences at postnatal day (P)5 and is later restricted to ON-bipolar cells. The intensity of Isl1 expression is found to segregate the pool of ON-bipolar cells into rod and ON-cone bipolar cells with higher expression in rod bipolar cells. As bipolar cell development proceeds from P5–10 the colocalization of Isl1 and the pan-bipolar cell marker Chx10 reveals the organization of ON-center bipolar cell nuclei to the upper portion of the inner nuclear layer. Further, whereas Isl1 is predominantly a ganglion cell marker prior to embryonic day (E)15.5, at E15.5 and later its expression in nonganglion cells expands. We demonstrate that these Isl1-positive, nonganglion cells acquire the expression of amacrine cell markers embryonically, likely representing nascent cholinergic amacrine cells. Taken together, Isl1 is expressed during the maturation of and is later maintained in retinal ganglion cells and subtypes of amacrine and bipolar cells where it may function in the maintenance of these cells into adulthood. J. Comp. Neurol. 503: 182–197, 2007.
PMCID: PMC2950632  PMID: 17480014
ON-bipolar cells; Chx10; amacrine cell; retina; neurogenesis; transcription factors; subtype markers
11.  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
12.  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
13.  Comparative expression analysis of POU4F1, POU4F2 and ISL1 in developing mouse cochleovestibular ganglion neurons 
Gene expression patterns : GEP  2014;15(1):31-37.
POU-homeodomain and LIM-homeodomain transcription factors are expressed in developing projection neurons within retina, inner ear, dorsal root ganglion, and trigeminal ganglion, and play synergistic roles in their differentiation and survival. Here, using immunohistochemistry, we present a comparative analysis of the spatiotemporal expression pattern of POU4F1, POU4F2, and ISL1 during the development of cochleovestibular ganglion (CVG) neurons in mouse inner ear. At early stages, when otic neurons are first detected in the otic epithelium (OE) and migrate into periotic mesenchyme to form the CVG, POU4F1 and ISL1 are co-expressed in a majority of the delaminated CVG neurons, which are marked by NEUROD1 expression, but POU4F1 is absent in the otic epithelium. The onset of POU4F2 expression starts after that of POU4F1 and ISL1, and is observed in the NEUROD1-negative, post-mitotic CVG neurons. When the CVG neurons innervate the vestibular and cochlear sensory organs, the expression of POU4F1, POU4F2, and ISL1 continues in both vestibular and spiral ganglion cells. Later in development, POU4F1 expression becomes down-regulated in a majority of spiral ganglion (SG) neurons and more neurons express POU4F2 expression while ISL1 expression is maintained. The differential as well as overlapping expression of POU4F1, POU4F2, and ISL1 combined with previous studies suggests possible functional interaction and regulatory relationship of these transcription factors in the development of inner ear neurons.
PMCID: PMC4065884  PMID: 24709358
inner ear; CVG; neurogenesis; LIM-homeodomain; POU-homeodomain; transcription factor
14.  ISL1 Directly Regulates FGF10 Transcription during Human Cardiac Outflow Formation 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e30677.
The LIM homeodomain gene Islet-1 (ISL1) encodes a transcription factor that has been associated with the multipotency of human cardiac progenitors, and in mice enables the correct deployment of second heart field (SHF) cells to become the myocardium of atria, right ventricle and outflow tract. Other markers have been identified that characterize subdomains of the SHF, such as the fibroblast growth factor Fgf10 in its anterior region. While functional evidence of its essential contribution has been demonstrated in many vertebrate species, SHF expression of Isl1 has been shown in only some models. We examined the relationship between human ISL1 and FGF10 within the embryonic time window during which the linear heart tube remodels into four chambers. ISL1 transcription demarcated an anatomical region supporting the conserved existence of a SHF in humans, and transcription factors of the GATA family were co-expressed therein. In conjunction, we identified a novel enhancer containing a highly conserved ISL1 consensus binding site within the FGF10 first intron. ChIP and EMSA demonstrated its direct occupation by ISL1. Transcription mediated by ISL1 from this FGF10 intronic element was enhanced by the presence of GATA4 and TBX20 cardiac transcription factors. Finally, transgenic mice confirmed that endogenous factors bound the human FGF10 intronic enhancer to drive reporter expression in the developing cardiac outflow tract. These findings highlight the interest of examining developmental regulatory networks directly in human tissues, when possible, to assess candidate non-coding regions that may be responsible for congenital malformations.
PMCID: PMC3267757  PMID: 22303449
15.  Genome-wide Association Study and Meta-Analysis Identify ISL1 as Genome-wide Significant Susceptibility Gene for Bladder Exstrophy 
PLoS Genetics  2015;11(3):e1005024.
The bladder exstrophy-epispadias complex (BEEC) represents the severe end of the uro-rectal malformation spectrum, and is thought to result from aberrant embryonic morphogenesis of the cloacal membrane and the urorectal septum. The most common form of BEEC is isolated classic bladder exstrophy (CBE). To identify susceptibility loci for CBE, we performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of 110 CBE patients and 1,177 controls of European origin. Here, an association was found with a region of approximately 220kb on chromosome 5q11.1. This region harbors the ISL1 (ISL LIM homeobox 1) gene. Multiple markers in this region showed evidence for association with CBE, including 84 markers with genome-wide significance. We then performed a meta-analysis using data from a previous GWAS by our group of 98 CBE patients and 526 controls of European origin. This meta-analysis also implicated the 5q11.1 locus in CBE risk. A total of 138 markers at this locus reached genome-wide significance in the meta-analysis, and the most significant marker (rs9291768) achieved a P value of 2.13 × 10−12. No other locus in the meta-analysis achieved genome-wide significance. We then performed murine expression analyses to follow up this finding. Here, Isl1 expression was detected in the genital region within the critical time frame for human CBE development. Genital regions with Isl1 expression included the peri-cloacal mesenchyme and the urorectal septum. The present study identified the first genome-wide significant locus for CBE at chromosomal region 5q11.1, and provides strong evidence for the hypothesis that ISL1 is the responsible candidate gene in this region.
Author Summary
The etiology of classic exstrophy of the bladder (CBE) remains unclear. The present genome-wide association study and meta-analysis identified an association between CBE and a region on chromosome 5q11.1. This region contains the gene encoding insulin gene enhancer protein, ISL-1. In this region, 138 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) reached genome-wide significance, with the SNP rs9291768 showing the lowest P value (p = 2.13 x 10−12). Our findings, as supported by expression analyses in murine models, suggest that ISL1 is a susceptibility gene for CBE.
PMCID: PMC4357422  PMID: 25763902
16.  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
17.  Islet1 is a direct transcriptional target of the homeodomain transcription factor Shox2 and rescues the Shox2-mediated bradycardia 
Basic Research in Cardiology  2013;108(2):339.
The heart’s rhythm is initiated and regulated by a group of specialized cells in the sinoatrial node (SAN), the primary pacemaker of the heart. Abnormalities in the development of the SAN can result in irregular heart rates (arrhythmias). Although several of the critical genes important for SAN formation have been identified, our understanding of the transcriptional network controlling SAN development remains at a relatively early stage. The homeodomain transcription factor Shox2 is involved in the specification and patterning of the SAN. While the Shox2 knockout in mice results in embryonic lethality due to severe cardiac defects including improper SAN development, Shox2 knockdown in zebrafish causes a reduced heart rate (bradycardia). In order to gain deeper insight into molecular pathways involving Shox2, we compared gene expression levels in right atria of wildtype and Shox2−/− hearts using microarray experiments and identified the LIM homeodomain transcription factor Islet1 (Isl1) as one of its putative target genes. The downregulation of Isl1 expression in Shox2−/− hearts was confirmed and the affected region narrowed down to the SAN by whole-mount in situ hybridization. Using luciferase reporter assays and EMSA studies, we identified two specific SHOX2 binding sites within intron 2 of the ISL1 locus. We also provide functional evidence for Isl1 as a transcriptional target of Shox2 by rescuing the Shox2-mediated bradycardia phenotype with Isl1 using zebrafish as a model system. Our findings demonstrate a novel epistatic relationship between Shox2 and Isl1 in the heart with important developmental consequences for SAN formation and heart beat.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00395-013-0339-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3597335  PMID: 23455426
Arrhythmia; Gene regulation; Islet1; Shox2; Sinoatrial node; Transcription factors
18.  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
19.  Identification and Functional Characterization of Cardiac Pacemaker Cells in Zebrafish 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e47644.
In the mammalian heart a conduction system of nodes and conducting cells generates and transduces the electrical signals evoking myocardial contractions. Specialized pacemaker cells initiating and controlling cardiac contraction rhythmicity are localized in an anatomically identifiable structure of myocardial origin, the sinus node. We previously showed that in mammalian embryos sinus node cells originate from cardiac progenitors expressing the transcription factors T-box transcription factor 3 (Tbx3) and Islet-1 (Isl1). Although cardiac development and function are strikingly conserved amongst animal classes, in lower vertebrates neither structural nor molecular distinguishable components of a conduction system have been identified, questioning its evolutionary origin. Here we show that zebrafish embryos lacking the LIM/homeodomain-containing transcription factor Isl1 display heart rate defects related to pacemaker dysfunction. Moreover, 3D reconstructions of gene expression patterns in the embryonic and adult zebrafish heart led us to uncover a previously unidentified, Isl1-positive and Tbx2b-positive region in the myocardium at the junction of the sinus venosus and atrium. Through their long interconnecting cellular protrusions the identified Isl1-positive cells form a ring-shaped structure. In vivo labeling of the Isl1-positive cells by transgenic technology allowed their isolation and electrophysiological characterization, revealing their unique pacemaker activity. In conclusion we demonstrate that Isl1-expressing cells, organized as a ring-shaped structure around the venous pole, hold the pacemaker function in the adult zebrafish heart. We have thereby identified an evolutionary conserved, structural and molecular distinguishable component of the cardiac conduction system in a lower vertebrate.
PMCID: PMC3473062  PMID: 23077655
20.  Distinct populations within Isl1 lineages contribute to appendicular and facial skeletogenesis through the β-catenin pathway 
Developmental biology  2014;387(1):37-48.
Isl1 expression marks progenitor populations in developing embryos. In this study, we investigated the contribution of Isl1-expressing cells that utilize the β-catenin pathway to skeletal development. Inactivation of β-catenin in Isl1-expressing cells caused agenesis of the hindlimb skeleton and absence of the lower jaw (agnathia). In the hindlimb, Isl1-lineages broadly contributed to the mesenchyme, however, deletion of β-catenin in the Isl1-lineage caused cell death only in a discrete posterior domain of nascent hindlimb bud mesenchyme. We found that the loss of posterior mesenchyme, which gives rise to Shh-expressing posterior organizer tissue, caused loss of posterior gene expression and failure to expand chondrogenic precursor cells, leading to severe truncation of the hindlimb. In facial tissues, Isl1-expressing cells broadly contributed to facial epithelium. We found reduced nuclear β-catenin accumulation and loss of Fgf8 expression in mandibular epithelium of Isl1−/− embryos. Inactivating β-catenin in Isl1-expressing epithelium caused both loss of epithelial Fgf8 expression and death of mesenchymal cells in the mandibular arch without affecting epithelial proliferation and survival. These results suggest a Isl1-> β-catenin-> Fgf8 pathway that regulates mesenchymal survival and development of the lower jaw in the mandibular epithelium. By contrast, activating β-catenin signaling in Isl1-lineages caused activation of Fgf8 broadly in facial epithelium. Our results provide evidence that, despite its broad contribution to hindlimb mesenchyme and facial epithelium, the Isl1-β-catenin pathway regulates skeletal development of the hindlimb and lower jaw through discrete populations of cells that give rise to Shh-expressing posterior hindlimb mesenchyme and Fgf8-expressing mandibular epithelium.
PMCID: PMC3947553  PMID: 24424161
Isl1; β-catenin; limb; branchial arch; mandible
21.  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
22.  Identification of regulatory elements in the Isl1 gene locus 
Isl1 is a LIM/homeodomain transcription factor with critical roles for the development of the heart, the nervous system and the pancreas. Both deficiency and mis-expression of Isl1 cause profound developmental defects, demonstrating the importance of proper regulation of Isl1 gene expression during development. In order to understand the mechanisms that control Isl1 expression during embryogenesis and in tissue differentiation, we initiated a screen for gene regulatory elements in the Isl1 locus using a novel dual reporter gene vector that allows screens of large genomic regions through reporter gene assays in vitro and in vivo. We identified regions from the Isl1 gene locus that confer transcriptional activity in pancreatic cell lines in vitro. Using transgenic mice, we furthermore discovered an enhancer with in vivo specificity for the developing heart, as well as visceral and posterior mesoderm. Our findings further suggest that Foxo1 as well as Gata4 contribute to the activity of this enhancer in the developing embryo. We conclude that Isl1 gene expression is controlled in modular fashion by several elements with distinct functionality. Embryonic Isl1 expression in several tissues of mesodermal origin is driven by a specific enhancer that is located 3-6kb downstream of the gene.
PMCID: PMC3482124  PMID: 19598113
transgenic reporter; enhancer; heart mesoderm; cardiac crescent; lateral mesoderm
23.  CIP, a cardiac Isl1-interacting protein, represses cardiomyocyte hypertrophy 
Circulation Research  2012;110(6):818-830.
Mammalian heart has minimal regenerative capacity. In response to mechanical or pathological stress, the heart undergoes cardiac remodeling. Pressure and volume overload in the heart cause increased size (hypertrophic growth) of cardiomyocytes. Whereas the regulatory pathways that activate cardiac hypertrophy have been well established, the molecular events that inhibit or repress cardiac hypertrophy are less known.
To identify and investigate novel regulators that modulate cardiac hypertrophy.
Methods and Results
Here, we report the identification, characterization and functional examination of CIP, a novel cardiac Isl1-interacting protein. CIP was identified from a bioinformatic search for novel cardiac-expressed genes in mouse embryonic hearts. CIP encodes a nuclear protein without recognizable motifs. Northern blotting, in situ hybridization and reporter gene tracing demonstrated that CIP is highly expressed in cardiomyocytes of developing and adult hearts. Yeast-two-hybrid screening identified Isl1, a LIM/homeodomain transcription factor essential for the specification of cardiac progenitor cells in the second heart field, as a co-factor of CIP. CIP directly interacted with Isl1 and we mapped the domains of these two proteins which mediate their interaction. We show that CIP represses the transcriptional activity of Isl1 in the activation of the MEF2C enhancer. The expression of CIP was dramatically reduced in hypertrophic cardiomyocytes. Most importantly, overexpression of CIP repressed agonist-induced cardiomyocyte hypertrophy.
Our studies therefore identify CIP a novel regulator of cardiac hypertrophy.
PMCID: PMC3307880  PMID: 22343712
Isl1-interacting protein; transcription factor; cardiac development; cardiomyocyte hypertrophy
24.  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
25.  Isl1 Is required for multiple aspects of motor neuron development 
The LIM homeodomain transcription factor Islet1 (Isl1) is expressed in multiple organs and plays essential roles during embryogenesis. Isl1 is required for the survival and specification of spinal cord motor neurons. Due to early embryonic lethality and loss of motor neurons, the role of Isl1 in other aspects of motor neuron development remains unclear. In this study, we generated Isl1 mutant mouse lines expressing graded doses of Isl1. Our study has revealed essential roles of Isl1 in multiple aspects of motor neuron development, including motor neuron cell body localization, motor column formation and axon growth. In addition, Isl1 is required for survival of cranial ganglia neurons.
PMCID: PMC3200226  PMID: 21569850
Motor neuron; V2 interneuron; Cranial ganglia; Cell death; Isl1; Axon growth

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