Int J Biol Sci 2008; 4(1):48-57. doi:10.7150/ijbs.4.48

Research Paper

ParaHox genes in pancreatic cell cultures: effects on the insulin promoter regulation

Anna Rosanas-Urgell*, Jordi Garcia-Fernàndez, Gemma Marfany

Departament de Genètica, Facultat de Biologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
* Present address: Barcelona Center for International Health and Research(CRESIB), Laboratorio de Malaria (311 IDIBAPS), Facultat Medicina, Hospital Clinic, Barcelona, Spain

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Rosanas-Urgell A, Garcia-Fernàndez J, Marfany G. ParaHox genes in pancreatic cell cultures: effects on the insulin promoter regulation. Int J Biol Sci 2008; 4(1):48-57. doi:10.7150/ijbs.4.48. Available from

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The gene encoding PDX1 (pancreatic duodenum homeobox 1), the main transcription factor regulating the glucose-dependent transactivation of the insulin promoter in pancreatic β-cells, clusters with two closely related homeobox genes (Gsh1 and Cdx2/3), all of them belonging to the ParaHox gene family. The ParaHox gene evolutionary history in the vertebrate lineage involved duplications of the cluster and subsequent loss of some members, so that eventually, the human and murine genomes contain only 6 ParaHox genes. The crucial role of PDX1 in pancreas development, beta-cell formation and insulin transcription regulation has long been established. There is some data on CDX2/3 function in α-cells, but remarkably, nothing is known on the role of the other ParaHox genes, which are also expressed in the endocrine pancreas. Homeobox transcription factors that belong to the same family show high conservation of the homeodomain and share similar target sites and oligomeric partners, and thus may act redundantly, synergistically or antagonistically on the same promoters. Therefore, we explored the effects of the Parahox proteins (GSH1, GSH2, CDX1, CDX2/3 and CDX4) on the regulation of the insulin promoter in transfected α- and β- cultured cell lines at different glucose concentrations and compared them to those of PDX1. Noticeably, several ParaHox transcription factors are able to transactivate or inhibit the insulin promoter, depending on the cell type and glucose concentration, thus suggesting their possible participation in the regulation of similar target genes, such as insulin, either by silencing or activating them, in the absence of PDX1.

Keywords: ParaHox genes, endocrine pancreas, α-cells, β-cells, insulin promoter, Pdx1