Extracellular signal-regulated protein kinases 1 and 2 (ERK1/2) activities are modulated in a manner that reflects the secretory demand on β cells to integrate long- and short-term nutrient sensing information. Our studies have focused on the mechanisms of ERK1/2 activation in β cells and on the actions of ERK1/2 that regulate β cell function. Insulin and growth factors regulate ERK1/2 in β cells in a largely calcium-independent manner. Nutrients and anticipatory hormones, in contrast, activate ERK1/2 in a calcium-dependent manner in these cells. We are exploring the key intermediates in these distinct activation pathways and find that calcineurin is essential for the nutrient pathway but is not essential for the growth factor pathway. Using reporter assays, heterologous reconstitution, electrophoretic mobility shift assays, Northern analysis, Q-PCR and chromatin immunoprecipitation, we have examined several genes that are regulated by ERK1/2, primarily the insulin gene and the apoptotic factor C/EBP-homologous protein (CHOP)-10 (GADD153/DDIT-3), a bZIP protein. ERK1/2-sensitive transcriptional regulators common to these two genes are C/EBP-β and MafA. The insulin promoter is both positively and negatively regulated by glucose and other nutrients. Exposure to glucose for minutes to hours causes an increase in the rate of insulin gene transcription. In contrast, exposure to elevated glucose for 48 h or more results in inhibition of the insulin gene promoter. Both of these processes depend on ERK1/2 activity. Expression of CHOP is induced by stresses including nutrient deprivation and endoplasmic reticulum stress. CHOP gene expression, especially that regulated by nutrients, is also ERK1/2-dependent in β cells, These studies support the hypothesis that the genes regulated by ERK1/2 and the mechanisms employed are key to maintaining normal β cell function.
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