Glucocorticoids and checkpoint tyrosine kinase inhibitors stimulate rat pancreatic beta cell proliferation differentially
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Cell therapy for diabetes could benefit from the identification of small-molecule compounds that increase the number of functional pancreatic beta cells. Using a newly developed screening assay, we previously identified glucocorticoids as potent stimulators of human and rat beta cell proliferation. We now compare the stimulatory action of these steroid hormones to a selection of checkpoint tyrosine kinase inhibitors that were also found to activate the cell cycle-in beta cells and analyzed their respective effects on DNA-synthesis, beta cell numbers and expression of cell cycle regulators. Our data using glucocorticoids in combination with a receptor antagonist, mifepristone, show that 48h exposure is sufficient to allow beta cells to pass the cell cycle restriction point and to become committed to cell division regardless of sustained glucocorticoid-signaling. To reach the end-point of mitosis another 40h is required. Within 14 days glucocorticoids stimulate up to 75% of the cells to undergo mitosis, which indicates that these steroid hormones act as proliferation competence-inducing factors. In contrast, by correlating thymidine-analogue incorporation to changes in absolute cell numbers, we show that the checkpoint kinase inhibitors, as compared to glucocorticoids, stimulate DNA-synthesis only during a short time-window in a minority of cells, insufficient to give a measurable increase of beta cell numbers. Glucocorticoids, but not the kinase inhibitors, were also found to induce changes in the expression of checkpoint regulators. Our data, using checkpoint kinase-specific inhibitors further point to a role for Chk1 and Cdk1 in G1/S transition and progression of beta cells through the cell cycle upon stimulation with glucocorticoids.