NKX6.1 promotes PDX-1-induced liver to pancreatic β-cells reprogramming

Shiraz Gefen-Halevi, Itzhak H. Rachmut, Kfir Molakandov, Dana Berneman, Eytan Mor, Irit Meivar-Levy, Sarah Ferber*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Reprogramming adult mammalian cells is an attractive approach for generating cell-based therapies for degenerative diseases, such as diabetes. Adult human liver cells exhibit a high level of developmental plasticity and have been suggested as a potential source of pancreatic progenitor tissue. An instructive role for dominant pancreatic transcription factors in altering the hepatic developmental fate along the pancreatic lineage and function has been demonstrated. Here we analyze whether transcription factors expressed in mature pancreatic β-cells preferentially activate β-cell lineage differentiation in liver. NKX6.1 is a transcription factor uniquely expressed in β-cells of the adult pancreas, its potential role in reprogramming liver cells to pancreatic lineages has never been analyzed. Our results suggest that NKX6.1 activates immature pancreatic markers such as NGN-3 and ISL-1 but not pancreatic hormones gene expression in human liver cells. We hypothesized that its restricted capacity to activate a wide pancreatic repertoire in liver could be related to its incapacity to activate endogenous PDX-1 expression in liver cells. Indeed, the complementation of NKX6.1 by ectopic PDX-1 expression substantially and specifically promoted insulin expression and glucose regulated processed hormone secretion to a higher extent than that of PDX-1 alone, without increasing the reprogrammed cells. This may suggest a potential role for NKX6.1 in promoting PDX-1 reprogrammed cells maturation along the β-cell-like lineage. By contrast, NKX6.1 repressed PDX-1 induced proglucagon gene expression. The individual and concerted effects of pancreatic transcription factors in adult extra-pancreatic cells, is expected to facilitate developing regenerative medicine approaches for cell replacement therapy in diabetics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)655-664
Number of pages10
JournalCellular Reprogramming
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2010


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