Exendin-4 promotes liver cell proliferation and enhances the PDX-1-induced liver to pancreas transdifferentiation process

J Biol Chem. 2009 Nov 27;284(48):33509-20. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M109.017608. Epub 2009 Sep 15.


Over the last few years, evidence has accumulated revealing the unexpected potential of committed mammalian cells to convert to a different phenotype via a process called transdifferentiation or adult cell reprogramming. These findings may have major practical implications because this process may facilitate the generation of functional autologous tissues that can be used for replacing malfunctioning organs. An instructive role for transcription factors in diverting the developmental fate of cells in adult tissues has been demonstrated when adult human liver cells were induced to transdifferentiate to the pancreatic endocrine lineage upon ectopic expression of the pancreatic master regulator PDX-1 (pancreatic and duodenal homeobox gene 1). Since organogenesis and lineage commitment are affected also by developmental signals generated in response to environmental triggers, we have now analyzed whether the hormone GLP-1 (glucogen-like peptide-1) documented to play a role in pancreatic beta cell differentiation, maturation, and survival, can also increase the efficiency of liver to pancreas transdifferentiation. We demonstrate that the GLP-1R agonist, exendin-4, significantly improves the efficiency of PDX-1-mediated transdifferentiation. Exendin-4 affects the transdifferentiation process at two distinct steps; it increases the proliferation of liver cells predisposed to transdifferentiated in response to PDX-1 and promotes the maturation of transdifferentiated cells along the pancreatic lineage. Liver cell reprogramming toward the pancreatic beta cell lineage has been suggested as a strategy for functional replacement of the ablated insulin-producing cells in diabetics. Understanding the cellular and molecular basis of the transdifferentiation process will allow us to increase the efficiency of the reprogramming process and optimize its therapeutic merit.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Lineage / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects*
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cell Transdifferentiation / drug effects*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Exenatide
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 Receptor
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / genetics
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Islets of Langerhans / cytology
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism
  • Liver / cytology
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Peptides / pharmacology*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / agonists
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism
  • Receptors, Glucagon / agonists
  • Receptors, Glucagon / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Trans-Activators / genetics
  • Trans-Activators / metabolism*
  • Venoms / pharmacology*


  • GLP1R protein, human
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 Receptor
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Insulin
  • Peptides
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Receptors, Glucagon
  • Trans-Activators
  • Venoms
  • pancreatic and duodenal homeobox 1 protein
  • Exenatide