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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Role of transcription factors in the transdifferentiation of pancreatic islet cells.

  • Author(s): van der Meulen, Talitha
  • Huising, Mark O
  • et al.

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The α and β cells act in concert to maintain blood glucose. The α cells release glucagon in response to low levels of glucose to stimulate glycogenolysis in the liver. In contrast, β cells release insulin in response to elevated levels of glucose to stimulate peripheral glucose disposal. Despite these opposing roles in glucose homeostasis, α and β cells are derived from a common progenitor and share many proteins important for glucose sensing and hormone secretion. Results from recent work have underlined these similarities between the two cell types by revealing that β-to-α as well as α-to-β transdifferentiation can take place under certain experimental circumstances. These exciting findings highlight unexpected plasticity of adult islets and offer hope of novel therapeutic paths to replenish β cells in diabetes. In this review, we focus on the transcription factor networks that establish and maintain pancreatic endocrine cell identity and how they may be perturbed to facilitate transdifferentiation.

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