Role of Neurogenin3 in migration of pancreatic endocrine cells during development

The pancreas is one of the major organs of the digestive tract. Its endocrine function, mainly regulating glucose blood level, is achieved by endocrine cells. These cells are organized in clusters, the so-called islets of Langerhans. During development, these cells are specified within the pancreatic epithelium, and will subsequently delaminate and migrate out of the epithelium in order to form the islets. Neurogenin3 (Ngn3) is a bHLH transcription factor that is responsible for the differentiation of all endocrine cell types, but whether or not it has a role in their migration is still an open question. By using the chicken embryo model organism, we found that the differentiation and migration programs are two different processes that are induced by Ngn3 and that can be uncoupled. Therefore, we tried to unravel the mechanisms by which Ngn3 can induce endocrine cell migration. We found that, in both chick and mouse models, over-expression of Ngn3 induces a loss of apico-basal polarity, a breakdown of basal lamina, and more importantly, a loss of the epithelial marker E-cadherin (E-cad). It seems that this is not a direct effect mediated by direct binding to E-boxes in the E-cad promoter. Therefore, we are currently trying to find targets of Ngn3 that could mediate repression of E-cad, focusing on the zinc-finger transcription factors Snail1 and Snail2. Moreover, we also used a pancreatic explant culture method, developed in the laboratory of Pr. Jonathan Slack, which allows us to do time-lapse imaging and describe precisely the migration of endocrine cells in a system similar to in vivo conditions. Taking advantage of our Pdx1::Ngn3ERTM transgenic line, we followed Ngn3 misexpressing cells to understand in a more physiological manner how they migrate in the developing pancreas. We found that endocrine cell migrate at an average speed of 11.35 µm/h and migrate through an average length of 132.30 µm in 12 hours. We also found that endocrine cells migrate in the three compartments we defined: in the mesenchyme, inside the epithelium and at the edge of the epithelium. Their average velocity significantly changes depending on the compartment cells are migrating in. We found that the fastest cells are the ones migrating at the edge of the epithelium. RNA profiling comparing Ngn3 knockouts rescued or not by the Pdx1::Ngn3ERTM transgene was also used to identify the genes that function in endocrine cell migration downstream of Ngn3. We identified new Ngn3 target genes, some of which are implicated in migration such as the Doublecortin family.


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