GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program


Molecular Medicine

First Thesis Advisor

Fumihiko Urano, M.D., Ph.D.


Carrier Proteins, Insulin-Secreting Cells, Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress, Apoptosis, Inflammation, Diabetes Mellitus


Diabetes mellitus is a group of metabolic disorders characterized by hyperglycemia. The pathogenesis of these diseases involves β-cell dysfunction and death. The primary function of β-cells is to tightly regulate the secretion, production, and storage of insulin in response to blood glucose levels. In order to manage insulin biosynthesis, β-cells have an elaborate endoplasmic reticulum (ER).

The ER is an essential organelle for the proper processing and folding of proteins such as proinsulin. Proteins fold properly when the ER protein load balances with the ER folding capacity that handles this load. Disruption of this ER homeostasis by genetic and environmental stimuli leads to an accumulation of misfolded and unfolded proteins, a condition known as ER stress. Upon ER stress, the unfolded protein response (UPR) is activated. The UPR is a signaling network that aims to alleviate ER stress and restore ER homeostasis promoting cell survival. Hence, the UPR allows β-cells to handle the physiological fluctuations of insulin demand.

However upon severe unresolvable ER stress conditions such as during diabetes progression, the UPR switches to pathological outputs leading to β-cell dysfunction and apoptosis. Severe ER stress may also trigger inflammation and accumulating evidence suggests that inflammation also contributes to β-cell failure, but the mechanisms remain elusive.

In this dissertation, we demonstrate that thioredoxin interacting protein (TXNIP) mediates ER stress induced β-cell inflammation and apoptosis. During a DNA microarray analysis to identify novel survival and death components of the UPR, we identified TXNIP as an interesting proapoptotic candidate as it has been linked to glucotoxicity in β-cells. During our detailed investigation, we discovered that TXNIP is selectively expressed in β-cells of the pancreas and is strongly induced by ER stress through the IRE1α and PERK-eIF2α arms of the UPR and specifically its transcription is regulated by activating transcription factor 5 (ATF5) and carbohydrate response element binding protein (ChREBP) transcription factors.

As TXNIP has been shown to activate the Nod-like receptor protein 3 (NLRP3) inflammasome leading to the production of the inflammatory cytokine interleukin-1β (IL- 1β), we hypothesized that perhaps TXNIP has a role in IL-1β production under ER stress. We show that ER stress can induce IL-1β production and that IL-1β is capable of binding to IL-1 type 1 receptor (IL-1R1) on the surface of β-cells stimulating its own expression. More importantly, we demonstrate that TXNIP does indeed play a role in ER stress mediated IL-1β production through the NLRP3 inflammasome. Furthermore, we also confirmed that TXNIP is a mediator of β-cell apoptosis under ER stress partially through IL-1β signaling.

Collectively, we provide significant novel findings that TXNIP is a component of the UPR, mediates IL-1β production and autostimulation, and induces cell death under ER stress in β-cells. It is becoming clear that TXNIP has a role in the pathogenesis of diabetes and is a link between ER stress, oxidative stress and inflammation. Understanding the molecular mechanisms involved in TXNIP expression, activity, and function as we do here will shed light on potential therapeutic strategies to tackle diabetes.



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