Mitochondrial Protein UCP2 Controls Pancreas Development

The mitochondrial carrier uncoupling protein (UCP) 2 belongs to the family of the UCPs. Despite its name, it is now accepted that UCP2 is rather a metabolite transporter than a UCP. UCP2 can regulate oxidative stress and/or energetic metabolism. In rodents, UCP2 is involved in the control of α- and β-cell mass as well as insulin and glucagon secretion. Our aim was to determine whether the effects of UCP2 observed on β-cell mass have an embryonic origin. Thus, we used Ucp2 knockout mice. We found an increased size of the pancreas in Ucp2–/– fetuses at embryonic day 16.5, associated with a higher number of α- and β-cells. This phenotype was caused by an increase of PDX1+ progenitor cells. Perinatally, an increase in the proliferation of endocrine cells also participates in their expansion. Next, we analyzed the oxidative stress in the pancreata. We quantified an increased nuclear translocation of nuclear factor erythroid 2–related factor 2 (NRF2) in the mutant, suggesting an increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Phosphorylation of AKT, an ROS target, was also activated in the Ucp2–/– pancreata. Finally, administration of the antioxidant N-acetyl-l-cysteine to Ucp2–/– pregnant mice alleviated the effect of knocking out UCP2 on pancreas development. Together, these data demonstrate that UCP2 controls pancreas development through the ROS-AKT signaling pathway.