Fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) is a key regulator of metabolism under conditions of stress such as starvation, obesity, and hypothermia. Rapid induction of FGF21 is also observed in experimental models of pancreatitis, and FGF21 reduces tissue damage observed in these models, suggesting a nonmetabolic function. Pancreatitis is a debilitating disease with significant morbidity that greatly increases the risk of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. The goals of this study were to examine the regulation and function of FGF21 in acinar cell injury, specifically in a mouse model of pancreatic injury (Mist1(-/-)). Mist1(-/-) mice exhibit acinar cell disorganization, decreased acinar cell communication and exocytosis, and increased sensitivity to cerulein-induced pancreatitis (CIP). Examination of Fgf21 expression in Mist1(-/-) mice by qRT-PCR, Northern blot, and Western blot analyses showed a marked decrease in pancreatic Fgf21 expression before and after induction of CIP compared with C57Bl/6 mice. To determine whether the loss of FGF21 accounted for the Mist1(-/-) phenotypes, we generated Mist1(-/-) mice overexpressing human FGF21 from the ApoE promoter (Mist1(-/-)ApoE-FGF21). Reexpression of FGF21 partially mitigated pancreatic damage in Mist1(-/-) tissue based on reduced intrapancreatic enzyme activation, reduced expression of genes involved in fibrosis, and restored cell-cell junctions. Interestingly, alteration of Fgf21 expression in Mist1(-/-) tissue was not simply due to a loss of direct transcriptional regulation by MIST1. Chromatin immunopreciptation indicated that the loss of Fgf21 in the Mist1(-/-) pancreas is due, in part, to epigenetic silencing. Thus, our studies identify a new role for FGF21 in reducing acinar cell injury and uncover a novel mechanism for regulating Fgf21 gene expression.
Gene expression is affected by modifications to histone core proteins within chromatin. Changes in these modifications, or epigenetic reprogramming, can dictate cell fate and promote susceptibility to disease. The goal of this study was to determine the extent of epigenetic reprogramming in response to chronic stress that occurs following ablation of MIST1 (Mist1(-/-) ), which is repressed in pancreatic disease. Chromatin immunoprecipitation for trimethylation of lysine residue 4 on histone 3 (H3K4Me3) in purified acinar cells from wild type and Mist1(-/-) mice was followed by Next Generation sequencing (ChIP-seq) or ChIP-qPCR. H3K4Me3-enriched genes were assessed for expression by qRT-PCR in pancreatic tissue before and after induction of cerulein-induced pancreatitis. While most of H3K4Me3-enrichment is restricted to transcriptional start sites, >25% of enrichment sites are found within, downstream or between annotated genes. Less than 10% of these sites were altered in Mist1(-/-) acini, with most changes in H3K4Me3 enrichment not reflecting altered gene expression. Ingenuity Pathway Analysis of genes differentially-enriched for H3K4Me3 revealed an association with pancreatitis and pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma in Mist1(-/-) tissue. Most of these genes were not differentially expressed but several were readily induced by acute experimental pancreatitis, with significantly increased expression in Mist1(-/-) tissue relative to wild type mice. We suggest that the chronic cell stress observed in the absence of MIST1 results in epigenetic reprogramming of genes involved in promoting pancreatitis to a poised state, thereby increasing the sensitivity to events that promote disease.
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