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1.  Isolation and Characterization of Node/Notochord-Like Cells from Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells 
Stem cells and development  2011;20(11):1817-1827.
The homeobox gene Noto is expressed in the node and its derivative the notochord. Here we use a targeted Noto-GFP reporter to isolate and characterize node/notochord-like cells derived from mouse embryonic stem cells. We find very few Noto-expressing cells after spontaneous differentiation. However, the number of Noto-expressing cells was increased when using Activin A to induce a Foxa2- and Brachyury-expressing progenitor population, whose further differentiation into Noto-expressing cells was improved by simultaneous inhibition of BMP, Wnt, and retinoic acid signaling. Noto-GFP+ cells expressed the node/notochord markers Noto, Foxa2, Shh, Noggin, Chordin, Foxj1, and Brachyury; showed a vacuolarization characteristic of notochord cells; and can integrate into midline structures when grafted into Hensen’s node of gastrulating chicken embryos. The ability to generate node/notochord-like cells in vitro will aid the biochemical characterization of these developmentally important structures.
doi:10.1089/scd.2011.0042
PMCID: PMC3928718  PMID: 21351873
2.  Engineering Artificial Signaling Centers to Polarize Embryoid Body Differentiation 
Stem Cells and Development  2011;21(4):647-653.
Embryonic stem (ES) cells differentiating as aggregates self-organize dependent on Wnt signaling that is initially localized to discrete sites in the aggregate. As differentiation proceeds, Wnt signaling expands to most of the aggregates, thus resulting in widespread differentiation of mesendodermal progenitors. This process resembles primitive streak formation, but the lack of organized positional information makes the differentiating aggregates develop in a disorganized fashion. Here, we report that exogenous, cellular signaling sources can control the site where differentiation initiates in ES cell aggregates. Fibroblasts engineered to express cadherins are assembled with ES cells to form composite aggregates where the fibroblasts are positioned as a discrete pole. When engineered to express secreted Wnt agonists or antagonists, this pole functions to localize signaling in a way that polarizes the differentiating aggregates. The use of cell adhesion molecules to control morphology of developing stem cell aggregates should be widely applicable in tissue engineering.
doi:10.1089/scd.2011.0344
PMCID: PMC3280603  PMID: 21958075
3.  Partial promoter substitutions generating transcriptional sentinels of diverse signaling pathways in embryonic stem cells and mice 
Disease Models & Mechanisms  2012;5(6):956-966.
SUMMARY
Extracellular signals in development, physiology, homeostasis and disease often act by regulating transcription. Herein we describe a general method and specific resources for determining where and when such signaling occurs in live animals and for systematically comparing the timing and extent of different signals in different cellular contexts. We used recombinase-mediated cassette exchange (RMCE) to test the effect of successively deleting conserved genomic regions of the ubiquitously active Rosa26 promoter and substituting the deleted regions for regulatory sequences that respond to diverse extracellular signals. We thereby created an allelic series of embryonic stem cells and mice, each containing a signal-responsive sentinel with different fluorescent reporters that respond with sensitivity and specificity to retinoic acids, bone morphogenic proteins, activin A, Wnts or Notch, and that can be adapted to any pathway that acts via DNA elements.
doi:10.1242/dmm.009696
PMCID: PMC3484877  PMID: 22888097
4.  A BAC transgenic Hes1-EGFP reporter reveals novel expression domains in mouse embryos 
Gene expression patterns : GEP  2011;11(7):415-426.
Expression of the basic helix-loop-helix factor Hairy and Enhancer of Split-1 (Hes1) is required for normal development of a number of tissues during embryonic development. Depending on context, Hes1 may act as a Notch signalling effector which promotes the undifferentiated and proliferative state of progenitor cells, but increasing evidence also points to Notch independent regulation of Hes1 expression. Here we use high resolution confocal scanning of EGFP in a novel BAC transgenic mouse reporter line, Tg(Hes1-EGFP)1Hri, to analyse Hes1 expression from embryonic day 7.0 (e7.0). Our data recapitulates some previous observations on Hes1 expression and suggests new, hitherto unrecognised expression domains including expression in the definitive endoderm at early somite stages before gut tube closure and thus preceding organogenesis. This mouse line will be a valuable tool for studies addressing the role of Hes1 in a number of different research areas including organ specification, development and regeneration.
doi:10.1016/j.gep.2011.06.004
PMCID: PMC3163761  PMID: 21745596
5.  Generation of animals allowing the conditional inactivation of the Pax4 gene 
Transgenic Research  2012;21(6):1215-1220.
Pax4 belongs to the paired-box family of transcription factors. The analysis of loss- and gain-of-function mutant animals revealed that this factor plays a crucial role in the endocrine pancreas. Indeed, Pax4 is required for the genesis of insulin-producing beta-cells. Remarkably, the sole misexpression of Pax4 in glucagon-expressing cells is able to induce their regeneration, endow these with beta-cell features, and thereby counter chemically induced diabetes. However, the function of Pax4 in adult endocrine cells remains unclear. Herein, we report the generation of Pax4 conditional knockout mice that will allow the analysis of Pax4 function in mature beta-cells, as well as in the adult central nervous system.
doi:10.1007/s11248-012-9624-0
PMCID: PMC3505494  PMID: 22717987
Beta-cells; Pancreas; Insulin; Knockout; Floxed allele; Diabetes
6.  Permanent Neonatal Diabetes and Enteric Anendocrinosis Associated With Biallelic Mutations in NEUROG3 
Diabetes  2011;60(4):1349-1353.
OBJECTIVE
NEUROG3 plays a central role in the development of both pancreatic islets and enteroendocrine cells. Homozygous hypomorphic missense mutations in NEUROG3 have been recently associated with a rare form of congenital malabsorptive diarrhea secondary to enteroendocrine cell dysgenesis. Interestingly, the patients did not develop neonatal diabetes but childhood-onset diabetes. We hypothesized that null mutations in NEUROG3 might be responsible for the disease in a patient with permanent neonatal diabetes and severe congenital malabsorptive diarrhea.
RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS
The single coding exon of NEUROG3 was amplified and sequenced from genomic DNA. The mutant protein isoforms were functionally characterized by measuring their ability to bind to an E-box element in the NEUROD1 promoter in vitro and to induce ectopic endocrine cell formation and cell delamination after in ovo chicken endoderm electroporation.
RESULTS
Two different heterozygous point mutations in NEUROG3 were identified in the proband [c.82G>T (p.E28X) and c.404T>C (p.L135P)], each being inherited from an unaffected parent. Both in vitro and in vivo functional studies indicated that the mutant isoforms are biologically inactive. In keeping with this, no enteroendocrine cells were detected in intestinal biopsy samples from the patient.
CONCLUSIONS
Severe deficiency of neurogenin 3 causes a rare novel subtype of permanent neonatal diabetes. This finding confirms the essential role of NEUROG3 in islet development and function in humans.
doi:10.2337/db10-1008
PMCID: PMC3064109  PMID: 21378176
7.  Arx and Nkx2.2 compound deficiency redirects pancreatic alpha- and beta-cell differentiation to a somatostatin/ghrelin co-expressing cell lineage 
Background
Nkx2.2 and Arx represent key transcription factors implicated in the specification of islet cell subtypes during pancreas development. Mice deficient for Arx do not develop any alpha-cells whereas beta- and delta-cells are found in considerably higher numbers. In Nkx2.2 mutant animals, alpha- and beta-cell development is severely impaired whereas a ghrelin-expressing cell population is found augmented.
Notably, Arx transcription is clearly enhanced in Nkx2.2-deficient pancreata. Hence in order to precise the functional link between both factors we performed a comparative analysis of Nkx2.2/Arx single- and double-mutants but also of Pax6-deficient animals.
Results
We show that most of the ghrelin+ cells emerging in pancreata of Nkx2.2- and Pax6-deficient mice, express the alpha-cell specifier Arx, but also additional beta-cell related genes. In Nkx2.2-deficient mice, Arx directly co-localizes with iAPP, PC1/3 and Pdx1 suggesting an Nkx2.2-dependent control of Arx in committed beta-cells. The combined loss of Nkx2.2 and Arx likewise results in the formation of a hyperplastic ghrelin+ cell population at the expense of mature alpha- and beta-cells. Surprisingly, such Nkx2.2-/-Arx- ghrelin+ cells also express the somatostatin hormone.
Conclusions
Our data indicate that Nkx2.2 acts by reinforcing the transcriptional networks initiated by Pax4 and Arx in early committed beta- and alpha-cell, respectively. Our analysis also suggests that one of the coupled functions of Nkx2.2 and Pax4 is to counteract Arx gene activity in early committed beta-cells.
doi:10.1186/1471-213X-11-52
PMCID: PMC3179930  PMID: 21880149
Arx; Nkx2.2; somatostatin; ghrelin; Pax6; Pax4
8.  Mesenchymal Bone Morphogenetic Protein Signaling Is Required for Normal Pancreas Development 
Diabetes  2010;59(8):1948-1956.
OBJECTIVE
Pancreas organogenesis is orchestrated by interactions between the epithelium and the mesenchyme, but these interactions are not completely understood. Here we investigated a role for bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling within the pancreas mesenchyme and found it to be required for the normal development of the mesenchyme as well as for the pancreatic epithelium.
RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS
We analyzed active BMP signaling by immunostaining for phospho-Smad1,5,8 and tested whether pancreas development was affected by BMP inhibition after expression of Noggin and dominant negative BMP receptors in chicken and mouse pancreas.
RESULTS
Endogenous BMP signaling is confined to the mesenchyme in the early pancreas and inhibition of BMP signaling results in severe pancreatic hypoplasia with reduced epithelial branching. Notably, we also observed an excessive endocrine differentiation when mesenchymal BMP signaling is blocked, presumably secondary to defective mesenchyme to epithelium signaling.
CONCLUSIONS
We conclude that BMP signaling plays a previously unsuspected role in the mesenchyme, required for normal development of the mesenchyme as well as for the epithelium.
doi:10.2337/db09-1010
PMCID: PMC2911072  PMID: 20522595
9.  The transcriptional activity of Neurog3 affects migration and differentiation of ectopic endocrine cells in chicken endoderm 
Structured abstract
Neurog3 is expressed transiently in pancreatic endocrine progenitors where it is responsible for activating a transcription factor cascade which eventually defines the mature endocrine cells. However, the mechanism by which Neurog3 regulates different aspects of the endocrine differentiation program is less clear. In this report we used in ovo electroporation to investigate how manipulation of Neurog3 protein activity affected migration, differentiation and fate determination. We found that changes in the onset of Neurog3 expression only had minor effect on differentiation. However increasing the transcriptional activity of Neurog3 by fusing it to VP16 or co-electroporating with Ep300 caused the electroporated cells to migrate rather than differentiate. In contrast, reducing the transcriptional activity of Neurog3 by deleting parts of the activation domain, by fusing Neurog3 to the engrailed repressor domain, or co-electroporating with Hdac1 greatly increased the proportion of glucagon expressing cells.
doi:10.1002/dvdy.22329
PMCID: PMC3070887  PMID: 20549731
Neurog3; Ngn3; neurogenin 3; in ovo electroporation; whole mount fluorescence; pancreas; differentiation; glucagon; endocrine competence
10.  The ectopic expression of Pax4 in the mouse pancreas converts progenitor cells into α- and subsequently β-cells 
Cell  2009;138(3):449-462.
doi:10.1016/j.cell.2009.05.035
PMCID: PMC2792203  PMID: 19665969
Facultative endocrine progenitor cell; Endocrine pancreas development; Arx; Pax4; Mouse; Diabetes; Fate specification
11.  A late requirement for Wnt and FGF signaling during activin-induced formation of foregut endoderm from mouse embryonic stem cells 
Developmental biology  2009;330(2):286-304.
Here we examine how BMP, Wnt, and FGF signaling modulate activin-induced mesendodermal differentiation of mouse ES cells grown under defined conditions in adherent monoculture. We monitor ES cells containing reporter genes for markers of primitive streak (PS) and its progeny and extend previous findings on the ability of increasing concentrations of activin to progressively induce more ES cell progeny to anterior PS and endodermal fates. We find that the number of Sox17- and Gsc-expressing cells increases with increasing activin concentration while the highest number of T-expressing cells is found at the lowest activin concentration. The expression of Gsc and other anterior markers induced by activin is prevented by treatment with BMP4, which induces T expression and subsequent mesodermal development. We show that canonical Wnt-signaling is required only during late stages of activin-induced development of Sox17-expressing endodermal cells. Furthermore, Dkk1 treatment is less effective in reducing development of Sox17+ endodermal cells in adherent culture than in aggregate culture and appears to inhibit nodal-mediated induction of Sox17+ cells more effectively than activin-mediated induction. Notably, activin-induction of Gsc-GFP+ cells appears refractory to inhibition of canonical Wnt signaling but shows a dependence on early as well as late FGF signaling. Additionally, we find a late dependence on FGF signaling during induction of Sox17+ cells by activin while BMP4-induced T expression requires FGF signaling in adherent but not aggregate culture. Lastly, we demonstrate that activin-induced definitive endoderm derived from mouse ES cells can incorporate into the developing foregut endoderm in vivo and adopt a mostly anterior foregut character after further culture in vitro.
doi:10.1016/j.ydbio.2009.03.026
PMCID: PMC2730582  PMID: 19358838
Embryonic stem cell; gastrulation; endoderm; mesendoderm; anterior-posterior patterning; TGF-β; Wnt; FGF
12.  Retinoic Acid Signaling Organizes Endodermal Organ Specification along the Entire Antero-Posterior Axis 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(6):e5845.
Background
Endoderm organ primordia become specified between gastrulation and gut tube folding in Amniotes. Although the requirement for RA signaling for the development of a few individual endoderm organs has been established a systematic assessment of its activity along the entire antero-posterior axis has not been performed in this germ layer.
Methodology/Principal Findings
RA is synthesized from gastrulation to somitogenesis in the mesoderm that is close to the developing gut tube. In the branchial arch region specific levels of RA signaling control organ boundaries. The most anterior endoderm forming the thyroid gland is specified in the absence of RA signaling. Increasing RA in anterior branchial arches results in thyroid primordium repression and the induction of more posterior markers such as branchial arch Hox genes. Conversely reducing RA signaling shifts Hox genes posteriorly in endoderm. These results imply that RA acts as a caudalizing factor in a graded manner in pharyngeal endoderm. Posterior foregut and midgut organ primordia also require RA, but exposing endoderm to additional RA is not sufficient to expand these primordia anteriorly. We show that in chick, in contrast to non-Amniotes, RA signaling is not only necessary during gastrulation, but also throughout gut tube folding during somitogenesis. Our results show that the induction of CdxA, a midgut marker, and pancreas induction require direct RA signaling in endoderm. Moreover, communication between CdxA+ cells is necessary to maintain CdxA expression, therefore synchronizing the cells of the midgut primordium. We further show that the RA pathway acts synergistically with FGF4 in endoderm patterning rather than mediating FGF4 activity.
Conclusions/Significance
Our work establishes that retinoic acid (RA) signaling coordinates the position of different endoderm organs along the antero-posterior axis in chick embryos and could serve as a basis for the differentiation of specific endodermal organs from ES cells.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005845
PMCID: PMC2690404  PMID: 19516907
13.  Myt1 and Ngn3 form a feed-forward expression loop to promote endocrine islet cell differentiation 
Developmental biology  2008;317(2):531-540.
Summary
High levels of Ngn3 expression in pancreatic progenitor cells are both necessary and sufficient to initiate endocrine differentiation. While it is clear that the Notch-Hes1-mediated signals control the number of Ngn3-expressing cells in the developing pancreas, it is not known what factors control the level of Ngn3 expression in individual pancreatic cells. Here we report that Myt1b and Ngn3 form a feed-forward expression loop that regulates endocrine differentiation. Myt1b induces glucagon expression by potentiating Ngn3 transcription in pancreatic progenitors. Vice versa, Ngn3 protein production induces the expression of Myt1. Furthermore, pancreatic Myt1 expression largely, but not totally, relies on Ngn3 activity. Surprisingly, a portion of Myt1 expressing pancreatic cells express glucagon and other α cell markers in Ngn3 nullizygous mutant animals. These results demonstrate that Myt1b and Ngn3 positively regulate each other’s expression to promote endocrine differentiation. In addition, the data uncover an unexpected Ngn3 expression-independent endocrine cell production pathway, which further bolsters the notion that the seemingly equivalent endocrine cells of each type, as judged by hormone and transcription factor expression, are heterogeneous in their origin.
doi:10.1016/j.ydbio.2008.02.052
PMCID: PMC2423199  PMID: 18394599
endocrine islet; Myt1; endocrine progenitor; compensation; redundancy; pancreas
14.  Preservation of proliferating pancreatic progenitor cells by Delta-Notch signaling in the embryonic chicken pancreas 
Background
Genetic studies have shown that formation of pancreatic endocrine cells in mice is dependent on the cell autonomous action of the bHLH transcription factor Neurogenin3 and that the extent and timing of endocrine differentiation is controlled by Notch signaling. To further understand the mechanism by which Notch exerts this function, we have investigated pancreatic endocrine development in chicken embryos.
Results
In situ hybridization showed that expression of Notch signaling components and pro-endocrine bHLH factors is conserved to a large degree between chicken and mouse. Cell autonomous inhibition of Notch signal reception results in significantly increased endocrine differentiation demonstrating that these early progenitors are prevented from differentiating by ongoing Notch signaling. Conversely, activated Notch1 induces Hes5-1 expression and prevents endocrine development. Notably, activated Notch also prevents Ngn3-mediated induction of a number of downstream targets including NeuroD, Hes6-1, and MyT1 suggesting that Notch may act to inhibit both Ngn3 gene expression and protein function. Activated Notch1 could also block endocrine development and gene expression induced by NeuroD. Nevertheless, Ngn3- and NeuroD-induced delamination of endodermal cells was insensitive to activated Notch under these conditions. Finally, we show that Myt1 can partially overcome the repressive effect of activated Notch on endocrine gene expression.
Conclusion
We conclude that pancreatic endocrine development in the chicken relies on a conserved bHLH cascade under inhibitory control of Notch signaling. This lays the ground for further studies that take advantage of the ease at which chicken embryos can be manipulated.
Our results also demonstrate that Notch can repress Ngn3 and NeuroD protein function and stimulate progenitor proliferation. To determine whether Notch in fact does act in Ngn3-expressing cells in vivo will require further studies relying on conditional mutagenesis.
Lastly, our results demonstrate that expression of differentiation markers can be uncoupled from the process of delamination of differentiating cells from the epithelium.
doi:10.1186/1471-213X-7-63
PMCID: PMC1906762  PMID: 17555568
15.  Embryonic endocrine pancreas and mature β cells acquire α and PP cell phenotypes upon Arx misexpression  
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2007;117(4):961-970.
Aristaless-related homeobox (Arx) was recently demonstrated to be involved in pancreatic α cell fate specification while simultaneously repressing the β and δ cell lineages. To establish whether Arx is not only necessary, but also sufficient to instruct the α cell fate in endocrine progenitors, we used a gain-of-function approach to generate mice conditionally misexpressing this factor. Mice with forced Arx expression in the embryonic pancreas or in developing islet cells developed a dramatic hyperglycemia and eventually died. Further analysis demonstrated a drastic loss of β and δ cells. Concurrently, a remarkable increase in the number of cells displaying α cell or, strikingly, pancreatic polypeptide (PP) cell features was observed. Notably, the ectopic expression of Arx induced in embryonic or adult β cells led to a loss of the β cell phenotype and a concomitant increase in a number of cells with α or PP cell characteristics. Combining quantitative real-time PCR and lineage-tracing experiments, we demonstrate that, in adult mice, the misexpression of Arx, rather than its overexpression, promotes a conversion of β cells into glucagon- or PP-producing cells in vivo. These results provide important insights into the complex mechanisms underlying proper pancreatic endocrine cell allocation and cell identity acquisition.
doi:10.1172/JCI29115
PMCID: PMC1839241  PMID: 17404619
16.  Recapitulation of embryonic neuroendocrine differentiation in adult human pancreatic duct cells expressing neurogenin 3 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2002;159(2):303-312.
Regulatory proteins have been identified in embryonic development of the endocrine pancreas. It is unknown whether these factors can also play a role in the formation of pancreatic endocrine cells from postnatal nonendocrine cells. The present study demonstrates that adult human pancreatic duct cells can be converted into insulin-expressing cells after ectopic, adenovirus-mediated expression of the class B basic helix-loop-helix factor neurogenin 3 (ngn3), which is a critical factor in embryogenesis of the mouse endocrine pancreas. Infection with adenovirus ngn3 (Adngn3) induced gene and/or protein expression of NeuroD/β2, Pax4, Nkx2.2, Pax6, and Nkx6.1, all known to be essential for β-cell differentiation in mouse embryos. Expression of ngn3 in adult human duct cells induced Notch ligands Dll1 and Dll4 and neuroendocrine- and β-cell–specific markers: it increased the percentage of synaptophysin- and insulin-positive cells 15-fold in ngn3-infected versus control cells. Infection with NeuroD/β2 (a downstream target of ngn3) induced similar effects. These data indicate that the Delta-Notch pathway, which controls embryonic development of the mouse endocrine pancreas, can also operate in adult human duct cells driving them to a neuroendocrine phenotype with the formation of insulin-expressing cells.
doi:10.1083/jcb.200203074
PMCID: PMC2173047  PMID: 12403815
neurogenin 3; islets of langerhans; transdifferentiation; insulin; diabetes mellitus

Results 1-18 (18)