Glucocorticoid signaling in pancreatic islets modulates gene regulatory programs and genetic risk of type 2 diabetes

Anthony Aylward, Mei-Lin Okino, Paola Benaglio, Joshua Chiou, Elisha Beebe, Jose Andres Padilla, Sharlene Diep, Kyle J Gaulton.
PLoS Genet. 2021-05-13;17(5):e1009531.
Glucocorticoids are key regulators of glucose homeostasis and pancreatic islet function, but the gene regulatory programs driving responses to glucocorticoid signaling in islets and the contribution of these programs to diabetes risk are unknown. In this study we used ATAC-seq and RNA-seq to map chromatin accessibility and gene expression from eight primary human islet samples cultured in vitro with the glucocorticoid dexamethasone. We identified 2,838 accessible chromatin sites and 1,114 genes with significant changes in activity in response to glucocorticoids. Chromatin sites up-regulated in glucocorticoid signaling were prominently enriched for glucocorticoid receptor binding sites and up-regulated genes were enriched for ion transport and lipid metabolism, whereas down-regulated chromatin sites and genes were enriched for inflammatory, stress response and proliferative processes. Genetic variants associated with glucose levels and T2D risk were enriched in glucocorticoid-responsive chromatin sites, including fine-mapped risk variants at 54 known signals. Among fine-mapped variants in glucocorticoid responsive chromatin, a likely casual variant at the 2p21 locus had glucocorticoid-dependent allelic effects on beta cell enhancer activity and affected SIX2 and SIX3 expression. Our results provide a comprehensive map of islet regulatory programs in response to glucocorticoids through which we uncover a role for islet glucocorticoid signaling in mediating risk of type 2 diabetes.
Consortium data used in this publication
The authors confirm that all data underlying the findings are fully available without restriction. All raw data are available from the GEO database (GSE167250). All data underlying graphs are provided in the main text or as Supporting Information.