Exendin-4 stimulates autophagy in pancreatic β-cells via the RAPGEF/EPAC-Ca2+-PPP3/calcineurin-TFEB axis

FP Zummo, SI Krishnnda, M Georgiou, Finbarr O'Harte, Parthsarathy V, KS Cullen, M Honkanen-Scott, JAM Shaw, PE Lovat, C Arden

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Macroautophagy/autophagy is critical for the regulation of pancreatic β-cell mass and its deregulation has been implicated in the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes (T2D). We have previously shown that treatment of pancreatic β-cells with the GLP1R (glucagon like peptide 1 receptor) agonist exendin-4 stimulates autophagic flux in a setting of chronic nutrient excess. The aim of this study was to identify the underlying pathways contributing to enhanced autophagic flux. Pancreatic β-cells (INS-1E),mouse and human islets were treated with glucolipotoxic stress (0.5 mM palmitate and 25 mM glucose) in the presence of exendin-4. Consistent with our previous work, exendin-4 stimulated autophagic flux. Using chemical inhibitors and siRNA knockdown, we identified RAPGEF4/EPAC2 (Rap guanine nucleotide exchange factor 4) and downstream calcium signaling to be essential for regulation of autophagic flux by exendin-4. This pathway was independent of AMPK and MTOR signaling. Further analysis identified PPP3/calcineurin and its downstream regulator TFEB (transcription factor EB) as key proteins mediating exendin-4 induced autophagy. Importantly, inhibition of this pathway prevented exendin-4-mediated cell survival and overexpression of TFEB mimicked the cell protective effects of exendin-4 in INS-1E and human islets. Moreover, treatment of db/db mice with exendin-4 for 21 days increased the expression of lysosomal markers within the pancreatic islets. Collectively our data identify the RAPGEF4/EPAC2-calcium-PPP3/calcineurin-TFEB axis as a key mediator of autophagic flux, lysosomal function and cell survival in pancreatic β-cells. Pharmacological modulation of this axis may offer a novel therapeutic target for the treatment of T2D.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2021


  • Autophagy
  • diabetes
  • GLP-1R agonists
  • Pancreatic beta-cell
  • PPP3/calcineurin
  • TFEB


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