Iterative use of nuclear receptor Nr5a2 regulates multiple stages of liver and pancreas development

Dev Biol. 2016 Oct 1;418(1):108-123. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2016.07.019. Epub 2016 Jul 26.


The stepwise progression of common endoderm progenitors into differentiated liver and pancreas organs is regulated by a dynamic array of signals that are not well understood. The nuclear receptor subfamily 5, group A, member 2 gene nr5a2, also known as Liver receptor homolog-1 (Lrh-1) is expressed in several tissues including the developing liver and pancreas. Here, we interrogate the role of Nr5a2 at multiple developmental stages using genetic and chemical approaches and uncover novel pleiotropic requirements during zebrafish liver and pancreas development. Zygotic loss of nr5a2 in a targeted genetic null mutant disrupted the development of the exocrine pancreas and liver, while leaving the endocrine pancreas intact. Loss of nr5a2 abrogated exocrine pancreas markers such as trypsin, while pancreas progenitors marked by ptf1a or pdx1 remained unaffected, suggesting a role for Nr5a2 in regulating pancreatic acinar cell differentiation. In the developing liver, Nr5a2 regulates hepatic progenitor outgrowth and differentiation, as nr5a2 mutants exhibited reduced hepatoblast markers hnf4α and prox1 as well as differentiated hepatocyte marker fabp10a. Through the first in vivo use of Nr5a2 chemical antagonist Cpd3, the iterative requirement for Nr5a2 for exocrine pancreas and liver differentiation was temporally elucidated: chemical inhibition of Nr5a2 function during hepatopancreas progenitor specification was sufficient to disrupt exocrine pancreas formation and enhance the size of the embryonic liver, suggesting that Nr5a2 regulates hepatic vs. pancreatic progenitor fate choice. Chemical inhibition of Nr5a2 at a later time during pancreas and liver differentiation was sufficient to block the formation of mature acinar cells and hepatocytes. These findings define critical iterative and pleiotropic roles for Nr5a2 at distinct stages of pancreas and liver organogenesis, and provide novel perspectives for interpreting the role of Nr5a2 in disease.

Keywords: Endoderm development; Exocrine pancreas; Hepatopancreas progenitors; Liver; Nuclear receptor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acinar Cells / cytology*
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Endoderm / cytology
  • Fatty Acid-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor 4 / metabolism
  • Hepatocytes / cytology*
  • Hepatopancreas / embryology*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Liver / embryology*
  • Morpholinos / genetics
  • Pancreas, Exocrine / embryology*
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / genetics*
  • Trans-Activators / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Trypsin / metabolism
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / metabolism
  • Zebrafish / embryology*
  • Zebrafish / genetics
  • Zebrafish Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Zebrafish Proteins / genetics*
  • Zebrafish Proteins / metabolism


  • Fatty Acid-Binding Proteins
  • Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor 4
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Morpholinos
  • NR5A2 protein, zebrafish
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • Trans-Activators
  • Transcription Factors
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins
  • Zebrafish Proteins
  • fatty acid-binding protein 10, zebrafish
  • pancreatic and duodenal homeobox 1 protein
  • prospero-related homeobox 1 protein
  • transcription factor PTF1
  • Trypsin