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1.  Maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase regulates pancreatic ductal, but not β‐cell, regeneration 
Physiological Reports  2014;2(9):e12131.
The maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase (MELK) is expressed in stem/progenitor cells in some adult tissues, where it has been implicated in diverse biological processes, including the control of cell proliferation. Here, we described studies on its role in adult pancreatic regeneration in response to injury induced by duct ligation and β‐cell ablation. MELK expression was studied using transgenic mice expressing GFP under the control of the MELK promoter, and the role of MELK was studied using transgenic mice deleted in the MELK kinase domain. Pancreatic damage was initiated using duct ligation and chemical beta‐cell ablation. By tracing MELK expression using a MELK promoter‐GFP transgene, we determined that expression was extremely low in the normal pancreas. However, following duct ligation and β‐cell ablation, it became highly expressed in pancreatic ductal cells while remaining weakly expressed in α‐cells and β‐ cells. In a mutant mouse in which the MELK kinase domain was deleted, there was no effect on pancreatic development. There was no apparent effect on islet regeneration, either. However, following duct ligation there was a dramatic increase in the number of small ducts, but no change in the total number of duct cells or duct cell proliferation. In vitro studies indicated that this was likely due to a defect in cell migration. These results implicate MELK in the control of the response of the pancreas to injury, specifically controlling cell migration in normal and transformed pancreatic duct cells.
The manuscript reports the discovery of a previously unrecognized role for the MELK kinase in regulating pancreatic duct cell migration, which plays an important role in the response of the pancreas to injury.
PMCID: PMC4270240  PMID: 25194022
Cancer; duct; MELK; migration
2.  Reversal of Lipotoxic Effects on the Insulin Promoter by Alverine and Benfluorex: Identification as HNF4α Activators 
ACS chemical biology  2013;8(8):1730-1736.
The principal finding of this study is that two drugs, alverine and benfluorex, used in vastly different clinical settings and previously unknown to share mechanistic or structural similarity, activated the nuclear receptor transcription factor HNF4α. Both were hits in a high-throughput screen for compounds that reversed the inhibitory effect of the fatty acid palmitate on human insulin promoter activity. Alverine is used in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, while benfluorex (Mediator) was used to treat hyperlipidemia and type II diabetes. Benfluorex was withdrawn from the market recently because of serious cardiovascular side effects related to fenfluramine-like activity. Strikingly, alverine and benfluorex have a previously unrecognized structural similarity, consistent with a common mechanism of action. Gene expression and biochemical studies revealed that they both activate HNF4α. This novel mechanism of action should lead to a reinterpretation of previous studies with these drugs and suggests a path towards the development of therapies for diseases such as inflammatory bowel and diabetes that may respond to HNF4α activators.
PMCID: PMC3922238  PMID: 23675775
4.  T-cadherin (Cdh13) in association with pancreatic β-cell granules contributes to second phase insulin secretion 
Islets  2011;3(6):327-337.
Glucose homeostasis depends on adequate control of insulin secretion. We report the association of the cell-adhesion and adiponectin (APN)-binding glycoprotein T-cadherin (Cdh13) with insulin granules in mouse and human β-cells. Immunohistochemistry and electron microscopy of islets in situ and targeting of RFP-tagged T-cadherin to GFP-labeled insulin granules in isolated β-cells demonstrate this unusual location. Analyses of T-cadherin-deficient (Tcad-KO) mice show normal islet architecture and insulin content. However, T-cadherin is required for sufficient insulin release in vitro and in vivo. Primary islets from Tcad-KO mice were defective in glucose-induced but not KCl-mediated insulin secretion. In vivo, second phase insulin release in T-cad-KO mice during a hyperglycemic clamp was impaired while acute first phase release was unaffected. Tcad-KO mice showed progressive glucose intolerance by 5 mo of age without concomitant changes in peripheral insulin sensitivity. Our analyses detected no association of APN with T-cadherin on β-cell granules although colocalization was observed on the pancreatic vasculature. These data identify T-cadherin as a novel component of insulin granules and suggest that T-cadherin contributes to the regulation of insulin secretion independently of direct interactions with APN.
PMCID: PMC3329514  PMID: 21975561
adiponectin; confocal microscopy; electron microscopy; exocytosis; glucose homeostasis; hyperglycemic clamp; islets of Langerhans; Secretion; T-cadherin
5.  Id3 upregulates BrdU incorporation associated with a DNA damage response, not replication, in human pancreatic β-cells 
Islets  2011;3(6):358-366.
Elucidating mechanisms of cell cycle control in normally quiescent human pancreatic β-cells has the potential to impact regeneration strategies for diabetes. Previously we demonstrated that Id3, a repressor of basic Helix-Loop-Helix (bHLH) proteins, was sufficient to induce cell cycle entry in pancreatic duct cells, which are closely related to β-cells developmentally. We hypothesized that Id3 might similarly induce cell cycle entry in primary human β-cells. To test this directly, adult human β-cells were transduced with adenovirus expressing Id3. Consistent with a replicative response, β-cells exhibited BrdU incorporation. Further, Id3 potently repressed expression of the cyclin dependent kinase inhibitor p57Kip2, a gene which is also silenced in a rare β-cell hyperproliferative disorder in infants. Surprisingly, however, BrdU positive β-cells did not express the proliferation markers Ki67 and pHH3. Instead, BrdU uptake reflected a DNA damage response, as manifested by hydroxyurea incorporation, γH2AX expression and 53BP1 subcellular relocalization. The uncoupling of BrdU uptake from replication raises a cautionary note about interpreting studies relying solely upon BrdU incorporation as evidence of β-cell proliferation. The data also establish that loss of p57Kip2 is not sufficient to induce cell cycle entry in adult β-cells. Moreover, the differential responses to Id3 between duct and β-cells reveal that β-cells possess intrinsic resistance to cell cycle entry not common to all quiescent epithelial cells in the adult human pancreas. The data provide a much needed comparative model for investigating the molecular basis for this resistance in order to develop a strategy for improving replication competence in β-cells.
PMCID: PMC3329516  PMID: 21964314
DNA damage; regeneration; replication
6.  HNF4α Antagonists Discovered by a High-Throughput Screen for Modulators of the Human Insulin Promoter 
Chemistry & biology  2012;19(7):806-818.
Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor (HNF)4α is a central regulator of gene expression in cell types that play a critical role in metabolic homeostasis, including hepatocytes, enterocytes, and pancreatic β-cells. Although fatty acids were found to occupy the HNF4α ligand-binding pocket and proposed to act as ligands, there is controversy about both the nature of HNF4α ligands as well as the physiological role of the binding. Here, we report the discovery of potent synthetic HNF4α antagonists through a high-throughput screen for effectors of the human insulin promoter. These molecules bound to HNF4α with high affinity and modulated the expression of known HNF4α target genes. Notably, they were found to be selectively cytotoxic to cancer cell lines in vitro and in vivo, although in vivo potency was limited by suboptimal pharmacokinetic properties. The discovery of bioactive modulators for HNF4α raises the possibility that diseases involving HNF4α, such as diabetes and cancer, might be amenable to pharmacologic intervention by modulation of HNF4α activity.
PMCID: PMC3447631  PMID: 22840769
7.  Phenothiazine Neuroleptics Signal to the Human Insulin Promoter as Revealed by a Novel High-Throughput Screen 
Journal of Biomolecular Screening  2010;15(6):663-670.
A number of diabetogenic stimuli interact to influence insulin promoter activity, making it an attractive target for both mechanistic studies and therapeutic interventions. High-throughput screening (HTS) for insulin promoter modulators has the potential to reveal novel inputs into the control of that central element of the pancreatic β-cell. A cell line from human islets in which the expression of insulin and other β-cell-restricted genes are modulated by an inducible form of the bHLH transcription factor E47 was developed. This cell line, T6PNE, was adapted for HTS by transduction with a vector expressing green fluorescent protein under the control of the human insulin promoter. The resulting cell line was screened against a library of known drugs for those that increase insulin promoter activity. Members of the phenothiazine class of neuroleptics increased insulin gene expression upon short-term exposure. Chronic treatment, however, resulted in suppression of insulin promoter activity, consistent with the effect of phenothiazines observed clinically to induce diabetes in chronically treated patients. In addition to providing insights into previously unrecognized targets and mechanisms of action of phenothiazines, the novel cell line described here provides a broadly applicable platform for mining new molecular drug targets and central regulators of β-cell differentiated function.
PMCID: PMC3374493  PMID: 20547533
diabetes; chlorpromazine; ethopropazine
8.  Derivation of a Retinoid X Receptor Scaffold from Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor γ Ligand 1-Di(1H-indol-3-yl)methyl-4-trifluoromethylbenzene 
ChemMedChem  2009;4(7):1106-1119.
1-Di(1H-indol-3-yl)methyl-4-trifluoromethylbenzene (DIM-Ph-4-CF3) is reported to inhibit cancer cell growth and to act as a transcriptional agonist of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ (PPARγ) and nuclear receptor 4A subfamily member 1 (NR4A1). In addition, DIM-Ph-4-CF3 exerts anticancer effects independent of these receptors because PPARγ antagonists do not block its inhibition of cell growth, and the small pocket in the NR4A1 crystal structure suggests no ligand can bind. Because PPARγ and NR4A1 heterodimerize with retinoid X receptor (RXR), and several PPARγ ligands transcriptionally activate RXR, DIM-Ph-4-CF3 was investigated as an RXR ligand. DIM-Ph-4-CF3 displaces 9-cis-retinoic acid from RXRα but does not transactivate RXRα. Structure-based design using DIM-Ph-4-CF3 as a template led to the RXRα transcriptional agonist (E)-3-[5-di(1-methyl-1H-indol-3-yl)methyl-2-thienyl]acrylic acid. Its docked pose in the RXRα ligand binding domain suggests that binding is stabilized by interactions of its carboxylate group with arginine 316, its indoles with cysteines 269 and 432, and its 1-methyl groups with hydrophobic residues lining the binding pocket. As is expected of a selective activator of RXRα, but not of RARs and PPARγ, this RXRα agonist, unlike DIM-Ph-4-CF3, does not appreciably decrease cancer cell growth or induce apoptosis at pharmacologically relevant concentrations.
PMCID: PMC3031428  PMID: 19378296
antitumor agents; dimethylarenes; receptors; retinoids; RXR; TR3
9.  CENP-A, a protein required for chromosome segregation in mitosis, declines with age in islet but not exocrine cells 
Aging (Albany NY)  2010;2(11):785-790.
Beta-cell replication dramatically declines with age. Here, we report that the level of CENP-A, a protein required for cell division, declines precipitously with age in an islet-specific manner. CENP-A is essentially undetectable after age 29 in humans. However, exocrine cells retain CENP-A expression. The decline in islet-cell CENP-A expression is more striking in humans than in mice, where CENP-A expression continues to be detectable at low levels even in elderly mice. The mechanism by which CENP-A declines appears to be post-transcriptional, as there was no correlation between CENP-A mRNA levels and age or islet purity. This finding has implications for efforts to induce beta-cell replication as a treatment for diabetes.
PMCID: PMC3006021  PMID: 21068465
β-cell; replication; pancreas; diabetes
10.  Islet Specific Wnt Activation in Human Type II Diabetes 
Experimental Diabetes Research  2009;2008:728763.
The Wnt pathway effector gene TCF7L2 has been linked to type II diabetes, making it important to study the role of Wnt signaling in diabetes pathogenesis. We examined the expression of multiple Wnt pathway components in pancreases from normal individuals and type II diabetic individuals. Multiple members of the Wnt signaling pathway, including TCF7L2, Wnt2b, β-catenin, pGSK3β, TCF3, cyclinD1, and c-myc, were undetectable or expressed at low levels in islets from nondiabetic individuals, but were also upregulated specifically in islets of type II diabetic patients. Culture of pancreatic tissue and islet isolation led to Wnt activation that was reversed by the Wnt antagonist sFRP, demonstrating that Wnt activation in that setting was due to soluble Wnt factors. These data support a model in which the Wnt pathway plays a dynamic role in the pathogenesis of type II diabetes and suggest manipulation of Wnt signaling as a new approach to β-cell-directed diabetes therapy.
PMCID: PMC2628766  PMID: 19165345
To examine the mechanism by which growth-stimulated pancreatic β-cells dedifferentiate, somatic cell fusions were performed between MIN6, a highly differentiated mouse insulinoma, and βlox5, a cell line derived from human β-cells which progressively dedifferentiated in culture. MIN6/βlox5 somatic cells hybrids underwent silencing of insulin expression and a marked decline in PDX1, NeuroD, and MafA, indicating that βlox5 expresses a dominant trans-acting factor(s) that represses β-cell differentiation. Expression of Hes1, which inhibits endocrine differentiation was higher in hybrid cells than in parental MIN6 cells. Hes6, a repressor of Hes1, was highly expressed in primary β-cells as well as MIN6, but was repressed in hybrids. Hes6 overexpression using a retroviral vector led to a decrease in Hes1 levels, an increase in β-cell transcription factors and partial restoration of insulin expression. We conclude that the balance of Notch activators and inhibitors may play an important role in maintaining the β-cell differentiated state.
PMCID: PMC1852427  PMID: 17300753
β-cell; insulin; cell fusion; differentiation; islet; somatic cell hybrids
12.  Islet expression of the DNA repair enzyme 8-oxoguanosine DNA glycosylase (Ogg1) in human type 2 diabetes 
It has become increasingly clear that β-cell failure plays a critical role in the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes. Free-radical mediated β-cell damage has been intensively studied in type 1 diabetes, but not in human type 2 diabetes. Therefore, we studied the protein expression of the DNA repair enzyme Ogg1 in pancreases from type 2 diabetics. Ogg1 was studied because it is the major enzyme involved in repairing 7,8-dihydro-8-oxoguanosine DNA adducts, a lesion previously observed in a rat model of type 2 diabetes. Moreover, in a gene expression screen, Ogg1 was over-expressed in islets from a human type 2 diabetic.
Immunofluorescent staining of Ogg1 was performed on pancreatic specimens from healthy controls and patients with diabetes for 2–23 years. The intensity and islet area stained for Ogg1 was evaluated by semi-quantitative scoring.
Both the intensity and the area of islet Ogg1 staining were significantly increased in islets from the type 2 diabetic subjects compared to the healthy controls. A correlation between increased Ogg1 fluorescent staining intensity and duration of diabetes was also found. Most of the staining observed was cytoplasmic, suggesting that mitochondrial Ogg1 accounts primarily for the increased Ogg1 expression.
We conclude that oxidative stress related DNA damage may be a novel important factor in the pathogenesis of human type 2 diabetes. An increase of Ogg1 in islet cell mitochondria is consistent with a model in which hyperglycemia and consequent increased β-cell oxidative metabolism lead to DNA damage and the induction of Ogg1 expression.
PMCID: PMC111186  PMID: 12003641
13.  Telomerase Activity Is Sufficient To Allow Transformed Cells To Escape from Crisis 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  1999;19(3):1864-1870.
The introduction of simian virus 40 large T antigen (SVLT) into human primary cells enables them to proliferate beyond their normal replicative life span. In most cases, this temporary escape from senescence eventually ends in a second proliferative block known as “crisis,” during which the cells cease growing or die. Rare immortalization events in which cells escape crisis are frequently correlated with the presence of telomerase activity. We tested the hypothesis that telomerase activation is the critical step in the immortalization process by studying the effects of telomerase activity in two mortal SVLT-Rasval12-transformed human pancreatic cell lines, TRM-6 and βlox5. The telomerase catalytic subunit, hTRT, was introduced into late-passage cells via retroviral gene transfer. Telomerase activity was successfully induced in infected cells, as demonstrated by a telomerase repeat amplification protocol assay. In each of nine independent infections, telomerase-positive cells formed rapidly dividing cell lines while control cells entered crisis. Telomere lengths initially increased, but telomeres were then maintained at their new lengths for at least 20 population doublings. These results demonstrate that telomerase activity is sufficient to enable transformed cells to escape crisis and that telomere elongation in these cells occurs in a tightly regulated manner.
PMCID: PMC83979  PMID: 10022873

Results 1-13 (13)