Aims/hypothesis: We previously reported that exposure to antibodies neutralising serpin B13, a protease inhibitor expressed in exocrine pancreatic ducts, promotes beta cell proliferation, underscoring the importance of a functional relationship between exocrine and endocrine pancreas. The aim of the present study was to identify the molecular events that link inhibition of serpin B13 to islet cell proliferation.
Methods: We used an in vitro culture system consisting of isolated pancreatic islets, an extract of pancreatic ductal epithelium and a monoclonal antibody (mAb) to serpin B13 or IgG isotype control. In vivo studies involved treatment of mice with these mAbs.
Results: The catalytic activity of cathepsin L (CatL), a cysteine protease target of serpin B13, was augmented in the pancreas of mice injected with serpin B13 mAb. Furthermore, the addition of serpin B13 mAb to the islets, together with the pancreatic ductal epithelium lysate, caused CatL-dependent cleavage of E-cadherin and concomitant upregulation of REG genes, ultimately leading to beta cell proliferation. Direct blockade of E-cadherin with mAb also markedly enhanced REG gene induction, while chemical inhibition of β-catenin, a binding target of E-cadherin, prevented the serpin B13 mAb-induced upregulation of REG genes.
Conclusions/interpretation: Our work implicates the CatL-E-cadherin-REG pathway in the regulation of islet cell proliferation in response to signals generated in exocrine pancreatic tissue and demonstrates that protease activity may promote adaptive changes in the islets.
Data availability: Microarray data that support the findings of this study have been deposited in Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO) with the accession no. GSE125151.
Keywords: Beta cell proliferation; Pancreatic islets; Proteases; Serpins.