Multi-layered epigenetic regulation of IRS2 expression in the liver of obese individuals with type 2 diabetes

Christin Krause, Cathleen Geißler, Heidi Tackenberg, Alexander T. El Gammal, Stefan Wolter, Joachim Spranger, Oliver Mann, Hendrik Lehnert, Henriette Kirchner*

*Corresponding author for this work
5 Citations (Scopus)


Aims/hypothesis: IRS2 is an important molecular switch that mediates insulin signalling in the liver. IRS2 dysregulation is responsible for the phenomenon of selective insulin resistance that is observed in type 2 diabetes. We hypothesise that epigenetic mechanisms are involved in the regulation of IRS2 in the liver of obese and type 2 diabetic individuals. Methods: DNA methylation of seven CpG sites was studied by bisulphite pyrosequencing and mRNA and microRNA (miRNA) expression was assessed by quantitative real-time PCR in liver biopsies of 50 obese non-diabetic and 31 obese type 2 diabetic participants, in a cross-sectional setting. Methylation-sensitive luciferase assays and electrophoretic mobility shift assays were performed. Furthermore, HepG2 cells were treated with insulin and high glucose concentrations to induce miRNA expression and IRS2 downregulation. Results: We found a significant downregulation of IRS2 expression in the liver of obese individuals with type 2 diabetes (0.84 ± 0.08-fold change; p = 0.0833; adjusted p value [pa] = 0.0417; n = 31) in comparison with non-diabetic obese participants (n = 50). This downregulation correlated with hepatic IRS2 DNA methylation at CpG5. Additionally, CpG6, which is located in intron 1 of IRS2, was hypomethylated in type 2 diabetes; this site spans the sterol regulatory element binding transcription factor 1 (SREBF1) recognition motif, which likely acts as transcriptional repressor. The adjacent polymorphism rs4547213 (G>A) was significantly associated with DNA methylation at a specificity-protein-1 (SP1) binding site (CpG3). Moreover, DNA methylation of cg25924746, a CpG site located in the shore region of the IRS2 promoter-associated CpG island, was increased in the liver of individuals with type 2 diabetes, as compared with those without diabetes. A second epigenetic mechanism, upregulation of hepatic miRNA hsa-let-7e-5p (let-7e-5p) in obese individuals with type 2 diabetes (n = 29) vs non-diabetic obese individuals (n = 49) (1.2 ± 0.08-fold change; p = 0.0332; pa = 0.0450), is likely to act synergistically with altered IRS2 DNA methylation to decrease IRS2 expression. Mechanistic in vitro experiments demonstrated an acute upregulation of let-7e-5p expression and simultaneous IRS2 downregulation in a liver (HepG2) cell line upon hyperinsulinaemic and hyperglycaemic conditions. Conclusions/interpretation: Our study highlights a new multi-layered epigenetic network that could be involved in subtle dysregulation of IRS2 in the liver of individuals with type 2 diabetes. This might lead to fine-tuning of IRS2 expression and is likely to be supplementary to the already known factors regulating IRS2 expression. Thereby, our findings could support the discovery of new diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for type 2 diabetes. [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish
Issue number10
Pages (from-to)2182-2193
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 01.10.2020

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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