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Jessica L Huang, Sharon Lee, Pelle Hoek, Talitha van der Meulen, Richard Van and Mark O Huising

There is great interest in generating functionally mature beta cells from stem cells, as loss of functional beta cell mass contributes to the pathophysiology of diabetes. Identifying markers of beta cell maturity is therefore very helpful for distinguishing stem cells that have been successfully differentiated into fully mature beta cells from stem cells that did not. Urocortin 3 (UCN3) is a peptide hormone whose expression is associated with the acquisition of functional maturity in beta cells. The onset of its expression occurs after other beta cell maturity markers are already expressed and its loss marks the beginning of beta cell dedifferentiation. Its expression pattern is therefore tightly correlated with beta cell maturity. While this makes UCN3 an excellent marker of beta cell maturity, it is not established whether UCN3 is required for beta cell maturation. Here, we compared gene expression and function of beta cells from Ucn3-null mice relative to WT mice to determine whether beta cells are functionally mature in the absence of UCN3. Our results show that genetic deletion of Ucn3 does not cause a loss of beta cell maturity or an increase in beta cell dedifferentiation. Furthermore, virgin beta cells, first identified as insulin-expressing, UCN3-negative beta cells, can still be detected at the islet periphery in Ucn3-null mice. Beta cells from Ucn3-null mice also exhibit normal calcium response when exposed to high glucose. Collectively, these observations indicate that UCN3 is an excellent mature beta cell marker that is nevertheless not necessary for beta cell maturation.

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Julian C Lui

The resting zone houses a group of slowly proliferating ‘reserve’ chondrocytes and has long been speculated to serve as the stem cell niche of the postnatal growth plate. But are these resting chondrocytes bona fide stem cells? Recent technological advances in lineage tracing and next-generation sequencing have finally allowed researchers to answer this question. Several recent studies have also shed light into the signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms involved in the maintenance of resting chondrocytes, thus providing us with important new insights into the role of the resting zone in the paracrine and endocrine regulation of childhood bone growth.

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Bethany R L Aykroyd, Simon J Tunster and Amanda N Sferruzzi-Perri

The placenta regulates materno-fetal nutrient transfer and secretes hormones that enable maternal physiological support of the pregnancy. In mice, these functions are performed by the labyrinth (Lz) and junctional (Jz) zones, respectively. Insulin-like growth factor 2 (Igf2) is an imprinted gene expressed by the conceptus that is important for promoting fetal growth and placenta formation. However, the specific role of Igf2 in the Jz in regulating placental endocrine function and fetal development is unknown. This study used a novel model to investigate the effect of conditional loss of Igf2 in the Jz (Jz-Igf2UE) on placental endocrine cell formation and the expression of hormones and IGF signaling components in placentas from female and male fetuses. Jz-Igf2UE altered gross placental structure and expression of key endocrine and signaling genes in a sexually dimorphic manner. The volumes of spongiotrophoblast and glycogen trophoblast in the Jz were decreased in placentas from female but not male fetuses. Expression of insulin receptor was increased and expression of placental lactogen-2 and the MAPK pathway genes (Mek1, P38α) decreased in the placental Jz of female but not male fetuses. In contrast, expression of the type-2 IGF receptor and the MAPK pathway genes (H-ras, N-ras, K-ras) was decreased in the placental Jz from male but not female fetuses. Expression of the steroidogenic gene, Cyp17a1, was increased in the placenta of both sexes. In summary, we report that Jz-Igf2UE alters the cellular composition, IGF signaling components and hormone expression of the placental Jz in a manner largely dependent on fetal sex.

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Kehinde Samuel Olaniyi and Lawrence Aderemi Olatunji

Adipose dysfunction and inflammation with or without hepatic defects underlie metabolic obesity. Glutamine (GLU) improves glucoregulation and metabolic indices but its effects on adipose function and hepatic lipid deposition in estrogen-progestin oral contraceptive (EPOC) users are unknown. Therefore, we hypothesized that GLUT supplementation would protect against adipose dysfunction and excess hepatic lipid influx and deposition in EPOC-treated animals by suppressing adenosine deaminase/xanthine oxidase (ADA/XO) activity and improving glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD)-dependent antioxidant defense. Female Wistar rats weighing 150–180 g were allotted into control, GLUT, EPOC and EPOC + GLUT groups (six rats/group). The groups received vehicle (distilled water, p.o.), GLUT (1 g/kg), EPOC containing 1.0 µg ethinylestradiol plus 5.0 µg levonorgestrel and EPOC plus GLUT, respectively, daily for 8 weeks. Results showed that the administration of EPOC caused glucose dysregulation and increased triglyceride-glucose index and visceral adiposity, but the body weight and liver weight were not affected. However, EPOC significantly decreased adipose lipid, G6PD and glutathione and increased glycogen synthesis, ADA, XO, uric acid, lipid peroxidation, lactate production and gamma-glutamyl transferase activity (GGT). On the other hand, EPOC increased hepatic lipid, ADA, XO, uric acid, lipid peroxidation and lactate production and decreased glycogen synthesis, G6PD and glutathione. Nevertheless, supplementation with glutamine attenuated these alterations. Collectively, the present results indicate that EPOC causes metabolically induced obesity which is associated with adipose dysfunction and hepatic metabolic disturbance. The findings also suggest that glutamine confers metabo-protection with corresponding improvement in adipose and hepatic metabolic function by suppression of ADA/XO activity and enhancement of G6PD-dependent antioxidant defense.

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Yue Yu, Rui Guo, Yunjin Zhang, Hongbo Shi, Haoran Sun, Xia Chu, Xiaoyan Wu, Huimin Lu and Changhao Sun

Chronic exposure of pancreatic β-cells to saturated fatty acid (palmitic or stearic acid) is a leading cause of impaired insulin secretion. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying stearic-acid-induced β-cell dysfunction remain poorly understood. Emerging evidence indicates that miRNAs are involved in various biological functions. The aim of this study was to explore the differential expression of miRNAs and mRNAs, specifically in stearic-acid-treated- relative to palmitic-acid-treated β-cells, and to establish their co-expression networks. β-TC-6 cells were treated with stearic acid, palmitic acid or normal medium for 24 h. Differentially expressed miRNAs and mRNAs were identified by high-throughput sequencing and bioinformatic analysis. Co-expression network, gene ontology (GO) and pathway analyses were then conducted. Changes in the expression of selected miRNAs and mRNAs were verified in β-TC-6 cells and mouse islets. Sequencing analysis detected 656 known and 1729 novel miRNAs. miRNA-mRNA network and Venn-diagram analysis yielded two differentially expressed miRNAs and 63 mRNAs exclusively in the stearic-acid group. miR-374c-5p was up-regulated by a 1.801 log2(fold-change) and miR-297b-5p was down-regulated by a −4.669 log2(fold-change). We found that miR-297b-5p and miR-374c-5p were involved in stearic-acid-induced lipotoxicity to β-TC-6 cells. Moreover, the effects of miR-297b-5p and miR-374c-5p on the alterations of candidate mRNAs expressions were verified. This study indicates that expression changes of specific miRNAs and mRNAs may contribute to stearic-acid-induced β-cell dysfunction, which provides a preliminary basis for further functional and molecular mechanism studies of stearic-acid-induced β-cell dysfunction in the development of type 2 diabetes.

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Lei Yu, Haoran Wang, Xiaoxue Han, Honghui Liu, Dalong Zhu, Wenhuan Feng, Jinhui Wu and Yan Bi

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is difficult to manage due to the lack of effective treatments. Increased oxygen consumption caused by overnutrition, along with reduced oxygen delivery to liver cells induces hepatic steatosis. Here, we investigated the efficacy of oxygen therapy (OT) to alleviate hepatic steatosis. The effect of OT on hepatic steatosis was evaluated in high-fat-diet (HFD)-fed mice and palmitic acid (PA)-treated primary hepatocytes. Liver biopsy tissue samples were used to determine the relationship between the expression of hypoxia-inducible factor-2α (HIF-2α) and the progression of NAFLD. The role of HIF-2α in the OT group was determined based on the overexpression of HIF-2α in vitro. OT safely alleviated hepatic hypoxia and improved hepatic steatosis by inhibiting hepatic de novo lipogenesis in HFD-fed mice and PA-treated primary hepatocytes, and this was accompanied by reduced expression of HIF-2α and hepatic de novo lipogenesis. The analysis of liver tissues from individuals with or without NAFLD revealed a positive correlation between hepatic HIF-2α expression and NAFLD progression. Overexpression of HIF-2α in vitro inhibited the beneficial effect of OT against hepatic lipogenesis and steatosis. OT might be a viable treatment option for NAFLD and functions by alleviating hypoxia and inhibiting the liver HIF-2α signaling pathway.

Open access

Lisa L Koorneef, Jan Kroon, Eva M G Viho, Lucas F Wahl, Kim M L Heckmans, Marloes M A R van Dorst, Menno Hoekstra, René Houtman, Hazel Hunt and Onno C Meijer

Glucocorticoids mediate numerous essential processes in the human body via binding to the glucocorticoid receptor (GR). Excessive GR signaling can cause disease, and GR antagonists can be used to treat many symptoms of glucocorticoid-induced pathology. The purpose of this study was to characterize the tissue-specific properties of the selective GR antagonist CORT125281. We evaluated the antagonistic effects of CORT125281 upon acute and subchronic corticosterone exposure in mice. In the acute corticosterone setting, hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal-axis activity was investigated by measurement of basal- and stress-induced corticosterone levels, adrenocorticotropic hormone levels and pituitary proopiomelanocortin expression. GR signaling was evaluated by RT-PCR analysis of GR-responsive transcripts in liver, muscle, brown adipose tissue (BAT), white adipose tissue (WAT) and hippocampus. Pretreatment with a high dose of CORT125281 antagonized GR activity in a tissue-dependent manner. We observed complete inhibition of GR-induced target gene expression in the liver, partial blockade in muscle and BAT and no antagonism in WAT and hippocampus. Tissue distribution only partially explained the lack of effective antagonism. CORT125281 treatment did not disinhibit the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal neuroendocrine axis. In the subchronic corticosterone setting, CORT125281 partially prevented corticosterone-induced hyperinsulinemia, but not hyperlipidemia and immune suppression. In conclusion, CORT125281 antagonizes GR transcriptional activity in a tissue-dependent manner and improves corticosterone-induced hyperinsulinemia. Tailored dosing of CORT125281 may allow tissue-specific inhibition of GR transcriptional activity.

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Alejandra Abeledo-Machado, Pablo Anibal Pérez, María Andrea Camilletti, Erika Yanil Faraoni, Florencia Picech, Juan Pablo Petiti, Silvina Gutiérrez and Graciela Diaz-Torga

Serum prolactin levels gradually increase from birth to puberty in both male and female rats, with higher levels observed in female since the first days of life. The increase in lactotroph secretion was attributed to the maturation of prolactin-inhibiting and prolactin-releasing factors; however, those mechanisms could not fully explain the gender differences observed. Prolactin secretion from isolated lactotrophs, in the absence of hypothalamic control, also increases during the first weeks of life, suggesting the involvement of intra-pituitary factors. We postulate that pituitary transforming growth factor beta 1 (TGFβ1) is involved in the regulation of prolactin secretion as well as in the gender differences observed at early postnatal age. Several components of the local TGFβ1 system were evaluated during postnatal development (11, 23, and 45 days) in female and male Sprague–Dawley rats. In vivo assays were performed to study local TGFβ1 activation and its impact on prolactin secretion. At day 11, female pituitaries present high levels of active TGFβ1, concomitant with the highest expression of TGFβ1 target genes and the phospho-Smad3 immunostaining in lactotrophs. The steady increase in prolactin secretion inversely correlates with active TGFβ1 levels only in females. Dopamine and estradiol induce TGFβ1 activation at day 11, in both genders, but its activation induces the inhibition of prolactin secretion only in females. Our findings demonstrate that: (1) TGFβ1 activation is regulated by dopamine and estradiol; (2) the inhibitory regulation of local TGFβ1 on prolactin secretion is gender specific; and (3) this mechanism is responsible, at least partially, for the gender differences observed being relevant during postnatal development.

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Sisi Luan, Wenkai Bi, Shulong Shi, Li Peng, Zhanbin Li, Jie Jiang, Ling Gao, Yifeng Du, Xu Hou, Zhao He and Jiajun Zhao

Subclinical hyperthyroidism, a condition characterized by decreased thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and normal concentration of thyroid hormone, is associated with an elevated risk for cognitive impairment. TSH is the major endogenous ligand of the TSH receptor (TSHR) and its role is dependent on signal transduction of TSHR. It has not, however, been established whether TSHR signaling is involved in the regulation of cognition. Here, we utilized Tshr knockout mice and found that Tshr deletion led to significantly compromised performance in learning and memory tests. Reduced dendritic spine density and excitatory synaptic density as well as altered synaptic structure in CA1 subfield of the hippocampus were also noted. Furthermore, the synapse-related gene expression was altered in the hippocampus of Tshr -/- mice. These findings suggest that TSHR signaling deficiency impairs spatial learning and memory, which discloses a novel role of TSHR signaling in brain function.

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Ali Aflatounian, Melissa C Edwards, Valentina Rodriguez Paris, Michael J Bertoldo, Reena Desai, Robert B Gilchrist, William L Ledger, David J Handelsman and Kirsty A Walters

As the mechanistic basis of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) remains unknown, current management relies on symptomatic treatment. Hyperandrogenism is a major PCOS characteristic and evidence supports it playing a key role in PCOS pathogenesis. Classically, androgens can act directly through the androgen receptor (AR) or, indirectly, following aromatization, via the estrogen receptor (ER). We investigated the mechanism of androgenic actions driving PCOS by comparing the capacity of non-aromatizable dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and aromatizable testosterone to induce PCOS traits in WT and Ar-knockout (ARKO) mice. DHT and testosterone induced the reproductive PCOS-like features of acyclicity and anovulation in WT females. In ARKO mice, DHT did not cause reproductive dysfunction; however, testosterone treatment induced irregular cycles and ovulatory disruption. These findings indicate that direct AR actions and indirect, likely ER, actions of androgens are important mediators of PCOS reproductive traits. DHT, but not testosterone, induced an increase in body weight, body fat, serum cholesterol and adipocyte hypertrophy in WT mice, but neither androgen induced these metabolic features in ARKO mice. These data infer that direct AR-driven mechanisms are key in driving the development of PCOS metabolic traits. Overall, these findings demonstrate that differing PCOS traits can be mediated via different steroid signaling pathways and indicate that a phenotype-based treatment approach would ensure effective targeting of the underlying mechanisms.