Pancreatic α and β cells are derived from the same progenitors but play opposing roles in the control of glucose homeostasis. Disturbances in their function are associated with diabetes mellitus. To identify many of the proteins that define their unique pathways of differentiation and functional features, we have analyzed patterns of gene expression in αTC1.6 vs. MIN6 cell lines by using oligonucleotide microarrays. Approximately 9–10% of >11,000 transcripts examined showed significant differences between the two cell types. Of >700 known transcripts enriched in either cell type, transcription factors and their regulators (TFR) was one of the most significantly different categories. Ninety-six members of the basic zipper, basic helix–loop–helix, homeodomain, zinc finger, high mobility group, and other transcription factor families were enriched in α cells; in contrast, homeodomain proteins accounted for 51% of a total of 45 TFRs enriched in β cells. Our analysis thus highlights fundamental differences in expression of TFR subtypes within these functionally distinct islet cell types. Interestingly, the α cells appear to express a large proportion of factors associated with progenitor or stem-type cells, perhaps reflecting their earlier appearance during pancreatic development. The implications of these findings for a better understanding of α and β cell dysfunction in diabetes mellitus are also considered
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