Objective: We showed that 17beta-estradiol (E(2)) favors pancreatic beta-cell survival via the estrogen receptor-alpha (ERalpha) in mice. E(2) activates nuclear estrogen receptors via an estrogen response element (ERE). E(2) also activates nongenomic signals via an extranuclear form of ERalpha and the G protein-coupled estrogen receptor (GPER). We studied the contribution of estrogen receptors to islet survival.
Research design and methods: We used mice and islets deficient in estrogen receptor-alpha (alphaERKO(-/-)), estrogen receptor-beta (betaERKO(-/-)), estrogen receptor-alpha and estrogen receptor-beta (alphabetaERKO(-/-)), and GPER (GPERKO(-/-)); a mouse lacking ERalpha binding to the ERE; and human islets. These mice and islets were studied in combination with receptor-specific pharmacological probes.
Results: We show that ERalpha protection of islet survival is ERE independent and that E(2) favors islet survival through extranuclear and membrane estrogen receptor signaling. We show that ERbeta plays a minor cytoprotective role compared to ERalpha. Accordingly, betaERKO(-/-) mice are mildly predisposed to streptozotocin-induced islet apoptosis. However, combined elimination of ERalpha and ERbeta in mice does not synergize to provoke islet apoptosis. In alphabetaERKO(-/-) mice and their islets, E(2) partially prevents apoptosis suggesting that an alternative pathway compensates for ERalpha/ERbeta deficiency. We find that E(2) protection of islet survival is reproduced by a membrane-impermeant E(2) formulation and a selective GPER agonist. Accordingly, GPERKO(-/-) mice are susceptible to streptozotocin-induced insulin deficiency.
Conclusions: E(2) protects beta-cell survival through ERalpha and ERbeta via ERE-independent, extra-nuclear mechanisms, as well as GPER-dependent mechanisms. The present study adds a novel dimension to estrogen biology in beta-cells and identifies GPER as a target to protect islet survival.