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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Relative roles of the different Pax6 domains for pancreatic alpha cell development

Petra Dames1, Ramona Puff1, Michaela Weise1, Klaus G Parhofer1, Burkhard Göke1, Magdalena Götz2, Jochen Graw3, Jack Favor4 and Andreas Lechner1*

Author Affiliations

1 Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Klinikum Großhadern, Medizinische Klinik 2, Marchioninistr. 15, 81377 München, Germany

2 Helmholtz Center Munich, German Research Center for Environmental Health, Institute for Stem Cell Research, Ingolstädter Landstraße 1, 85764 Neuherberg, Germany and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Physiological Genomics, Schillerstr. 46, 80336 München, Germany

3 Helmholtz Center Munich, German Research Center for Environmental Health, Institute of Developmental Genetics, Ingolstädter Landstraße 1, 85764 Neuherberg, Germany

4 Helmholtz Center Munich, German Research Center for Environmental Health, Institute of Human Genetics, Ingolstädter Landstraße 1, 85764 Neuherberg, Germany

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BMC Developmental Biology 2010, 10:39  doi:10.1186/1471-213X-10-39

Published: 9 April 2010



The transcription factor Pax6 functions in the specification and maintenance of the differentiated cell lineages in the endocrine pancreas. It has two DNA binding domains, the paired domain and the homeodomain, in addition to a C-terminal transactivation domain. The phenotype of Pax6-/- knockout mice suggests non-redundant functions of the transcription factor in the development of glucagon-expressing α-cells as this cell type is absent in the mutants. We ask the question of how the differentiation of pancreatic endocrine cells, in particular that of α-cells, is affected by selective inactivation of either one of the three major domains of Pax6.


The Pax6Aey18 mutant mouse line, in which the paired domain is inactivated, showed a phenotype similar to that of Pax6-/- knockout mice with a near complete absence of glucagon-positive α-cells (0-4 cells/section; ≤1% of wt), reduced β-cell area (74% of wt) and disorganized islets. The proportion of ghrelin-positive ε-cells was expanded. In Pax6Sey-Neu mutants, which lack the transactivation domain, α-and β-cells where reduced to 25 and 40% of wt, respectively. We also studied two mouse lines with mutations in the homeodomain, Pax64Neu and Pax6132-14Neu. Neighboring amino acids are affected in the two lines and both point mutations abolish DNA binding of the classical P3 homeodomain target sequence. The pancreatic phenotype of the two mutants however was divergent. While Pax64Neu homozygotes showed a reduction of α- and β-cells to 59 and 61%, respectively, pancreatic endocrine development was unaltered in the Pax6132-14Neu mutant strain.


We show that inactivation of the Pax6 paired domain leads to a more severe phenotype with regards to the differentiation of pancreatic α-cells than the loss of the transactivation domain. The analysis of two different homeodomain mutants suggests that the binding of Pax6 to P3 homeodomain consensus sequences is not required for α-cell development. It rather seems that the homeodomain has a modulating role in Pax6 function, possibly by facilitating a PH0-like binding confirmation on paired domain target genes like proglucagon. This function is differentially affected by the two homeodomain mutations analyzed in this study.