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Diabetes. 2000 Dec;49(12):2039-47.

Hedgehog signaling regulation of insulin production by pancreatic beta-cells.

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Laboratory of Molecular Endocrinology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston 02114, USA.


Hedgehogs (Hhs) are intercellular signaling molecules that regulate tissue patterning in mammalian development. Mammalian Hhs include Sonic hedgehog (Shh), Indian hedgehog (Ihh), and Desert hedgehog (Dhh). The absence of Shh expression is required for the early development of the endocrine and exocrine pancreas, but whether Hh signaling functions in the fully developed adult endocrine pancreas is unknown. Here we report that Hhs Ihh and Dhh and their receptors patched (Ptc) and smoothened are expressed in the endocrine islets of Langerhans of the fully developed rat pancreas and in the clonal gamma-cell line INS-1. We demonstrate the coexpression of Ptc with insulin in beta-cells of mouse pancreatic islets, indicating that beta-cells are targets of active Hh signaling. The administration of cyclopamine, a Hh signaling inhibitor, decreases both insulin secretion from and insulin content of INS-1 cells. The effects of Hh signaling on insulin production occur at the transcriptional level because activation of Hh signal transduction by ectopic expression of Shh increases rat insulin I promoter activation in a dose-dependent manner in transient transfections of INS-1 and MIN6 beta-cell lines. In contrast, inhibition of Hh signaling with increasing concentrations of cyclopamine progressively reduces insulin promoter activity. Furthermore, the treatment of INS-1 cells with cyclopamine diminishes endogenous insulin mRNA expression. We propose that Hh signaling is not restricted to patterning in early pancreas development but also continues to signal in differentiated beta-cells of the endocrine pancreas in regulating insulin production. Thus, defective Hh signaling in the pancreas should be considered as a potential factor in the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes.

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