Certain nutrients and growth factors can stimulate pancreatic beta-cell growth. However, the appropriate mitogenic signaling pathways in beta-cells have been relatively undefined. In this study, differential gene expression in NEDH rat insulinoma was compared with NEDH rat primary islet beta-cells. Differential mRNA display analysis revealed an elevated expression in insulinoma of VL30 transposons, S24 ribosomal protein, and cytochrome-C oxidaseVIIc that is typical for cells undergoing mitosis. A gene candidate approach revealed that mRNA levels of the oncogenes c-fos and c-jun were equivalently expressed in insulinoma and islet cells, as was the mRNA for the mitogenic signal transduction molecule insulin receptor substrate (IRS)-1. However, in contrast to that of IRS-1, IRS-2 gene expression was 60- to 70-fold higher in the insulinoma tissue compared with islets, which was reflected at the protein as well as the mRNA level. The specific elevated IRS-2 expression was a consistent observation across all rodent pancreatic beta-cell lines. To investigate whether IRS-2 was functional, serum-stimulated beta-cell proliferation was examined in isolated insulinoma cells. After a 48-h period of serum withdrawal, 24 h of serum refeeding rendered an 8- to 10-fold increase in [3H]thymidine incorporation into insulinoma cells. This serum-stimulated DNA synthesis was prevented by inhibitors of tyrosine protein kinase and phosphatidylinositol (PI) 3-kinase activities, as well as the activation of mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase and p70S6K. Examination of IRS-mediated signal transduction pathways indicated that after 10-15 min of serum refeeding, there was increased tyrosine phosphorylation of IRS-2 and pp60, and PI 3-kinase recruitment to IRS-2. Serum also increased the association of growth factor-bound protein 2/murine sons of sevenless 1 protein to a PI 3-kinase/IRS-2 protein complex. Moreover, serum also activated MAP-kinase (erk-1 and erk-2 isoforms) and 70 kD S6 kinase. Thus IRS-mediated signal transduction pathways are functional in pancreatic beta-cells. It is conceivable that IRS-2 expression in beta-cells contributes to maintaining the islet beta-cell population, complementary to observations in the IRS-2 knockout mouse in which beta-cell mass is markedly reduced.

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