Objective: The miR-200-Zeb1 axis regulates the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), differentiation, and resistance to apoptosis. A better understanding of these processes in diabetes is highly relevant, as β-cell dedifferentiation and apoptosis contribute to the loss of functional β-cell mass and diabetes progression. Furthermore, EMT promotes the loss of β-cell identity in the in vitro expansion of human islets. Though the miR-200 family has previously been identified as a regulator of β-cell apoptosis in vivo, studies focusing on Zeb1 are lacking. The aim of this study was thus to investigate the role of Zeb1 in β-cell function and survival in vivo.
Methods: miR-200 and Zeb1 are involved in a double-negative feedback loop. We characterized a mouse model in which miR-200 binding sites in the Zeb1 3'UTR are mutated (Zeb1200), leading to a physiologically relevant upregulation of Zeb1 mRNA expression. The role of Zeb1 was investigated in this model via metabolic tests and analysis of isolated islets. Further insights into the distinct contributions of the miR-200 and Zeb1 branches of the feedback loop were obtained by crossing the Zeb1200 allele into a background of miR-141-200c overexpression.
Results: Mild Zeb1 derepression in vivo led to broad transcriptional changes in islets affecting β-cell identity, EMT, insulin secretion, cell-cell junctions, the unfolded protein response (UPR), and the response to ER stress. The aggregation and insulin secretion of dissociated islets of mice homozygous for the Zeb1200 mutation (Zeb1200M) were impaired, and Zeb1200M islets were resistant to thapsigargin-induced ER stress ex vivo. Zeb1200M mice had increased circulating proinsulin levels but no overt metabolic phenotype, reflecting the strong compensatory ability of islets to maintain glucose homeostasis.
Conclusions: This study signifies the importance of the miR-200-Zeb1 axis in regulating key aspects of β-cell function and survival. A better understanding of this axis is highly relevant in developing therapeutic strategies for inducing β-cell redifferentiation and maintaining β-cell identity in in vitro islet expansion.
Keywords: Double-negative feedback loop; ER stress; Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition; Islet aggregation; microRNA; β-cell dedifferentiation.
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