Aims/hypothesis: Inhibition of c-jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) favours pancreatic islet function and survival. Since two JNK isoforms are present in the pancreas (JNK1 and JNK2), we addressed their specific roles in experimental islet transplantation.
Methods: C57BL/6J (wild-type [WT]), Jnk1 (also known as Mapk8)(-/-) and Jnk2 (also known as Mapk9)(-/-) mice were used as donor/recipients in a syngeneic islet transplantation model. Islet cell composition, function, viability, production of cytokines and of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) were also studied in vitro.
Results: Jnk1 ( -/- ) islets secreted more insulin in response to glucose and were more resistant to cytokine-induced cell death compared with WT and Jnk2 (-/-) islets (p < 0.01). Cytokines reduced VEGF production in WT and Jnk2 (-/-) but not Jnk1 ( -/- ) islets; VEGF blockade restored Jnk1 ( -/- ) islet susceptibility to cytokine-induced cell death. Transplantation of Jnk1 ( -/- ) or WT islets into WT recipients made diabetic had similar outcomes. However, Jnk1 ( -/- ) recipients of WT islets had shorter time to diabetes reversal (17 vs 55 days in WT, p = 0.033), while none of the Jnk2 (-/-) recipients had diabetes reversal (0% vs 71% in WT, p = 0.0003). Co-culture of WT islets with macrophages from each strain revealed a discordant cytokine production.
Conclusions/interpretation: We have shown a deleterious effect of JNK2 deficiency on islet graft outcome, most likely related to JNK1 activation, suggesting that specific JNK1 blockade may be superior to general JNK inhibition, particularly when administered to transplant recipients.