High-content screening identifies a role for Na(+) channels in insulin production.
Szabat M., Modi H., Ramracheya R., Girbinger V., Chan F., Lee JTC., Piske M., Kamal S., Carol Yang YH., Welling A., Rorsman P., Johnson JD.
Insulin production is the central feature of functionally mature and differentiated pancreatic β-cells. Reduced insulin transcription and dedifferentiation have been implicated in type 2 diabetes, making drugs that could reverse these processes potentially useful. We have previously established ratiometric live-cell imaging tools to identify factors that increase insulin promoter activity and promote β-cell differentiation. Here, we present a single vector imaging tool with eGFP and mRFP, driven by the Pdx1 and Ins1 promoters, respectively, targeted to the nucleus to enhance identification of individual cells in a high-throughput manner. Using this new approach, we screened 1120 off-patent drugs for factors that regulate Ins1 and Pdx1 promoter activity in MIN6 β-cells. We identified a number of compounds that positively modulate Ins1 promoter activity, including several drugs known to modulate ion channels. Carbamazepine was selected for extended follow-up, as our previous screen also identified this use-dependent sodium channel inhibitor as a positive modulator of β-cell survival. Indeed, carbamazepine increased Ins1 and Ins2 mRNA in primary mouse islets at lower doses than were required to protect β-cells. We validated the role of sodium channels in insulin production by examining Nav1.7 (Scn9a) knockout mice and remarkably islets from these animals had dramatically elevated insulin content relative to wild-type controls. Collectively, our experiments provide a starting point for additional studies aimed to identify drugs and molecular pathways that control insulin production and β-cell differentiation status. In particular, our unbiased screen identified a novel role for a β-cell sodium channel gene in insulin production.