Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes involve a complex interplay between genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors. Our laboratory has been interested in the physical interactions, in nuclei of human pancreatic β cells, between the insulin (INS) gene and other genes that are involved in insulin metabolism. We have identified, using Circularized Chromosome Conformation Capture (4C), many physical contacts in a human pancreatic β cell line between the INS promoter on chromosome 11 and sites on most other chromosomes. Many of these contacts are associated with type 1 or type 2 diabetes susceptibility loci. To determine whether physical contact is correlated with an ability of the INS locus to affect expression of these genes, we knock down INS expression by targeting the promoter; 259 genes are either up or down-regulated. Of these, 46 make physical contact with INS We analyze a subset of the contacted genes and show that all are associated with acetylation of histone H3 lysine 27, a marker of actively expressed genes. To demonstrate the usefulness of this approach in revealing regulatory pathways, we identify from among the contacted sites the previously uncharacterized gene SSTR5-AS1 and show that it plays an important role in controlling the effect of somatostatin-28 on insulin secretion. These results are consistent with models in which clustering of genes supports transcriptional activity. This may be a particularly important mechanism in pancreatic β cells and in other cells where a small subset of genes is expressed at high levels.
Keywords: 4C-seq; gene regulation; insulin; pancreatic beta cells; somatostatin.