Homeobox gene Nkx6.1 lies downstream of Nkx2.2 in the major pathway of beta-cell formation in the pancreas.
Most insulin-producing beta-cells in the fetal mouse pancreas arise during the secondary transition, a wave of differentiation starting at embryonic day 13. Here, we show that disruption of homeobox gene Nkx6.1 in mice leads to loss of beta-cell precursors and blocks beta-cell neogenesis specifically during the secondary transition. In contrast, islet development in Nkx6. 1/Nkx2.2 double mutant embryos is identical to Nkx2.2 single mutant islet development: beta-cell precursors survive but fail to differentiate into beta-cells throughout development. Together, these experiments reveal two independently controlled pathways for beta-cell differentiation, and place Nkx6.1 downstream of Nkx2.2 in the major pathway of beta-cell differentiation.