Objective: Recent evidence indicates that low oxygen tension (pO2) or hypoxia controls the differentiation of several cell types during development. Variations of pO2 are mediated through the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF), a crucial mediator of the adaptative response of cells to hypoxia. The aim of this study was to investigate the role of pO2 in beta-cell differentiation.
Research design and methods: We analyzed the capacity of beta-cell differentiation in the rat embryonic pancreas using two in vitro assays. Pancreata were cultured either in collagen or on a filter at the air/liquid interface with various pO2. An inhibitor of the prolyl hydroxylases, dimethyloxaloylglycine (DMOG), was used to stabilize HIF1alpha protein in normoxia.
Results: When cultured in collagen, embryonic pancreatic cells were hypoxic and expressed HIF1alpha and rare beta-cells differentiated. In pancreata cultured on filter (normoxia), HIF1alpha expression decreased and numerous beta-cells developed. During pancreas development, HIF1alpha levels were elevated at early stages and decreased with time. To determine the effect of pO2 on beta-cell differentiation, pancreata were cultured in collagen at increasing concentrations of O2. Such conditions repressed HIF1alpha expression, fostered development of Ngn3-positive endocrine progenitors, and induced beta-cell differentiation by O2 in a dose-dependent manner. By contrast, forced expression of HIF1alpha in normoxia using DMOG repressed Ngn3 expression and blocked beta-cell development. Finally, hypoxia requires hairy and enhancer of split (HES)1 expression to repress beta-cell differentiation.
Conclusions: These data demonstrate that beta-cell differentiation is controlled by pO2 through HIF1alpha. Modifying pO2 should now be tested in protocols aiming to differentiate beta-cells from embryonic stem cells.