The onset of pancreas development in the foregut endoderm is marked by activation of the homeobox gene Pdx1 (IPF1). Pdx1 is essential for the expansion of the pancreatic primordium and the development of endocrine islets. The control of Pdx1 expression has been only partially elucidated. We demonstrate here that the winged-helix transcription factors Foxa1 and Foxa2 co-occupy multiple regulatory domains in the Pdx1 gene. Compound conditional ablation of both Foxa1 and Foxa2 in the pancreatic primordium results in complete loss of Pdx1 expression and severe pancreatic hypoplasia. Mutant mice exhibit hyperglycemia with severely disrupted acinar and islet development, and die shortly after birth. Assessment of developmental markers in the mutant pancreas revealed a failure in the expansion of the pancreatic anlage, a blockage of exocrine and endocrine cell differentiation, and an arrest at the primitive duct stage. Comparing their relative developmental activity, we find that Foxa2 is the major regulator in promoting pancreas development and cell differentiation. Using chromatin immunoprecipitations (ChIP) and ChIP sequencing (ChIPSeq) of fetal pancreas and islet chromatin, we demonstrate that Foxa1 and Foxa2 predominantly occupy a distal enhancer at -6.4 kb relative to the transcriptional start site in the Pdx1 gene. In addition, occupancy of the well-characterized proximal Pdx1 enhancer by Foxa1 and Foxa2 is developmental stage-dependent. Thus, the regulation of Pdx1 expression by Foxa1 and Foxa2 is a key early event controlling the expansion and differentiation of the pancreatic primordia.
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