Identification of direct transcriptional targets of NFATC2 that promote β-cell proliferation

J Clin Invest. 2021 Sep 7;144833. doi: 10.1172/JCI144833. Online ahead of print.


The transcription factor NFATC2 induces β-cell proliferation in mouse and human islets. However, the genomic targets that mediate these effects have not been identified. We expressed active forms of Nfatc2 and Nfatc1 in human islets. By integrating changes in gene expression with genomic binding sites for NFATC2, we identified ~2,200 transcriptional targets of NFATC2. Genes induced by NFATC2 were enriched for transcripts that regulate the cell cycle, and for DNA motifs associated with the transcription factor FOXP. Islets from an endocrine-specific Foxp1, Foxp2, and Foxp4 triple-knockout mouse are less responsive to NFATC2-induced β-cell proliferation, suggesting the FOXP family works to regulate β-cell proliferation in concert with NFATC2. NFATC2 induced β-cell proliferation in both mouse and human islets, whereas NFATC1 did so only in human islets. Exploiting this species difference, we identified ~250 direct transcriptional targets of NFAT in human islets. This gene set enriches for cell cycle-associated transcripts, and includes Nr4a1. Deletion of Nr4a1 reduced the capacity of NFATC2 to induce β-cell proliferation, suggesting that much of the effect of NFATC2 occurs through its induction of Nr4a1. Integration of non-coding RNA expression, chromatin accessibility, and NFATC2 binding sites enabled us to identify NFATC2-dependent enhancer loci that mediate β-cell proliferation.

Keywords: Beta cells; Cell Biology; Cell cycle; Diabetes; Endocrinology.