Theses Doctoral

Spatiotemporal and Mechanistic Analysis of Nkx2.2 Function in the Pancreatic Islet

Churchill, Angela Josephine

Pancreatic beta cell specification is a complex process, requiring proper function of numerous transcription factors. Nkx2.2 is a transcription factor that is crucial for beta cell formation, and is expressed early and throughout pancreatic development. Nkx2.2-/- mice display complete loss of the beta cell lineage and defects in the specification of other endocrine cell types, demonstrating the importance of Nkx2.2 in establishing proper endocrine cell ratios. Recent studies have also demonstrated a role for Nkx2.2 within the mature beta cell to maintain identity and function.
This thesis work investigated the timing of pancreatic beta cell specification and the mechanism of this process. In these studies, Nkx2.2 was ablated specifically within the Ngn3-expressing endocrine progenitor population in vivo. These mice displayed defects similar to Nkx2.2-/- mice. Surprisingly, the disruption of endocrine cell specification did not require loss of expression of multiple essential transcription factors known to function downstream of Nkx2.2, including Ngn3, Rfx6, and NeuroD1. While these factors are all necessary for beta cell specification, their preserved expression did not rescue beta cell formation. ChIP-Seq analyses also revealed co-occupancy of Nkx2.2, Rfx6, and NeuroD1 near endocrine-related genes, suggesting Nkx2.2 may cooperate with its downstream targets to regulate beta cell fate. These results have revealed a unique requirement for Nkx2.2 during a critical window of beta cell development.
In addition, the role of a conserved domain of Nkx2.2, the specific domain (SD), was assessed using Nkx2.2SDmutant mice. Transcriptional profiling of Nkx2.2SDmutant endocrine progenitors revealed a critical role for the SD domain in regulating the transcription of endocrine fate genes early in the process of endocrine differentiation. In addition, beta cell-specific deletion of the Nkx2.2 SD domain resulted in hyperglycemia, glucose intolerance and dysregulation of beta cell functional genes. This suggests the SD domain is important for mediating Nkx2.2 function within the beta cell to maintain glucose homeostasis.
Together, these results have elucidated a critical developmental window for beta cell specification and demonstrated an essential role for Nkx2.2 and specifically its SD domain in this process. Furthermore, these studies suggest that beta cell transcription factors may also regulate endocrine fate in a combinatorial manner, and exert changes within the endocrine progenitor lineage. These findings have provided us with a better understanding of in vivo pancreatic development, and will improve current research efforts to differentiate beta cells in vitro from hPSCs.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Genetics and Development
Thesis Advisors
Sussel, Lori
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 20, 2016