Calcineurin/NFATc2 and PI3K/AKT signaling maintains β-cell identity and function during metabolic and inflammatory stress

iScience. 2022 Mar 19;25(4):104125. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2022.104125. eCollection 2022 Apr 15.


Pancreatic islets respond to metabolic and inflammatory stress by producing hormones and other factors that induce adaptive cellular and systemic responses. Here we show that intracellular Ca2+ ([Ca2+]i) and ROS signals generated by high glucose and cytokine-induced ER stress activate calcineurin (CN)/NFATc2 and PI3K/AKT to maintain β-cell identity and function. This was attributed in part by direct induction of the endocrine differentiation gene RFX6 and suppression of several β-cell "disallowed" genes, including MCT1. CN/NFATc2 targeted p300 and HDAC1 to RFX6 and MCT1 promoters to induce and suppress gene transcription, respectively. In contrast, prolonged exposure to stress, hyperstimulated [Ca2+]i, or perturbation of CN/NFATc2 resulted in downregulation of RFX6 and induction of MCT1. These findings reveal that CN/NFATc2 and PI3K/AKT maintain β-cell function during acute stress, but β-cells dedifferentiate to a dysfunctional state upon loss or exhaustion of Ca2+/CN/NFATc2 signaling. They further demonstrate the utility of targeting CN/NFATc2 to restore β-cell function.

Keywords: Cell biology; Diabetology; Endocrinology; Molecular biology; Molecular interaction.