Regulation of cell differentiation programs requires complex interactions between transcriptional and epigenetic networks. Elucidating the principal molecular events responsible for the establishment and maintenance of cell fate identities will provide important insights into how cell lineages are specified and maintained and will improve our ability to recapitulate cell differentiation events in vitro. In this study, we demonstrate that Nkx2.2 is part of a large repression complex in pancreatic β cells that includes DNMT3a, Grg3, and HDAC1. Mutation of the endogenous Nkx2.2 tinman (TN) domain in mice abolishes the interaction between Nkx2.2 and Grg3 and disrupts β-cell specification. Furthermore, we demonstrate that Nkx2.2 preferentially recruits Grg3 and HDAC1 to the methylated Aristaless homeobox gene (Arx) promoter in β cells. The Nkx2.2 TN mutation results in ectopic expression of Arx in β cells, causing β-to-α-cell transdifferentiation. A corresponding β-cell-specific deletion of DNMT3a is also sufficient to cause Arx-dependent β-to-α-cell reprogramming. Notably, subsequent removal of Arx in the β cells of Nkx2.2(TNmut/TNmut) mutant mice reverts the β-to-α-cell conversion, indicating that the repressor activities of Nkx2.2 on the methylated Arx promoter in β cells are the primary regulatory events required for maintaining β-cell identity.
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