Prévot PP, Augereau C, Simion A, Van den Steen G, Dauguet N, Lemaigre FP, Jacquemin P
BACKGROUND & AIMS: Diseases of the exocrine pancreas are often associated with perturbed differentiation of acinar cells. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) regulate pancreas development, yet little is known about their contribution to acinar cell differentiation. We aimed to identify miRNAs that promote and control the maintenance of acinar differentiation. METHODS: We studied mice with pancreas- or acinar-specific inactivation of Dicer (Foxa3-Cre/Dicer(loxP/-) mice), combined (or not) with inactivation of hepatocyte nuclear factor (HNF) 6 (Foxa3-Cre/Dicer(loxP/-)/Hnf6-/- mice). The role of specific miRNAs in acinar differentiation was investigated by transfecting cultured cells with miRNA mimics or inhibitors. Pancreatitis-induced metaplasia was investigated in mice after administration of cerulein. RESULTS: Inhibition of miRNA synthesis in acini by inactivation of Dicer and pancreatitis-induced metaplasia were associated with repression of acinar differentiation and with induction of HNF6 and hepatic genes. The phenotype of Dicer-deficient acini depends on the induction of HNF6; overexpression of this factor in developing acinar cells is sufficient to repress acinar differentiation and to induce hepatic genes. Let-7b and miR-495 repress HNF6 and are expressed in developing acini. Their expression is inhibited in Dicer-deficient acini, as well as in pancreatitis-induced metaplasia. In addition, inhibiting let-7b and miR-495 in acinar cells results in similar effects to those found in Dicer-deficient acini and metaplastic cells, namely induction of HNF6 and hepatic genes and repression of acinar differentiation. CONCLUSIONS: Let-7b, miR-495, and their targets constitute a gene network that is required to establish and maintain pancreatic acinar cell differentiation. Additional studies of this network will increase our understanding of pancreatic diseases.