To gain a deeper understanding of pancreatic β-cell development, we used iterative weighted gene correlation network analysis to calculate a gene co-expression network (GCN) from 11 temporally and genetically defined murine cell populations. The GCN, which contained 91 distinct modules, was then used to gain three new biological insights. First, we found that the clustered protocadherin genes are differentially expressed during pancreas development. Pcdhγ genes are preferentially expressed in pancreatic endoderm, Pcdhβ genes in nascent islets, and Pcdhα genes in mature β-cells. Second, after extracting sub-networks of transcriptional regulators for each developmental stage, we identified 81 zinc finger protein (ZFP) genes that are preferentially expressed during endocrine specification and β-cell maturation. Third, we used the GCN to select three ZFPs for further analysis by CRISPR mutagenesis of mice. null mice exhibited early postnatal lethality, and at E18.5 their pancreata exhibited a reduced number of pancreatic endocrine cells, alterations in exocrine cell morphology, and marked changes in expression of genes involved in protein translation, hormone secretion and developmental pathways in the pancreas. Together, our results suggest that developmentally oriented GCNs have utility for gaining new insights into gene regulation during organogenesis.
© 2021. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.