Inhibition of ZEB1 expression induces redifferentiation of adult human β cells expanded in vitro

Sci Rep. 2015 Aug 12;5:13024. doi: 10.1038/srep13024.


In-vitro expansion of functional adult human β-cells is an attractive approach for generating insulin-producing cells for transplantation. However, human islet cell expansion in culture results in loss of β-cell phenotype and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). This process activates expression of ZEB1 and ZEB2, two members of the zinc-finger homeobox family of E-cadherin repressors, which play key roles in EMT. Downregulation of ZEB1 using shRNA in expanded β-cell-derived (BCD) cells induced mesenchymal-epithelial transition (MET), β-cell gene expression, and proliferation attenuation. In addition, inhibition of ZEB1 expression potentiated redifferentiation induced by a combination of soluble factors, as judged by an improved response to glucose stimulation and a 3-fold increase in the fraction of C-peptide-positive cells to 60% of BCD cells. Furthermore, ZEB1 shRNA led to increased insulin secretion in cells transplanted in vivo. Our findings suggest that the effects of ZEB1 inhibition are mediated by attenuation of the miR-200c target genes SOX6 and SOX2. These findings, which were reproducible in cells derived from multiple human donors, emphasize the key role of ZEB1 in EMT in cultured BCD cells and support the value of ZEB1 inhibition for BCD cell redifferentiation and generation of functional human β-like cells for cell therapy of diabetes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics*
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Islets of Langerhans / cytology*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Zinc Finger E-box-Binding Homeobox 1


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • ZEB1 protein, human
  • Zinc Finger E-box-Binding Homeobox 1