BBS Faculty Member - Rohit Kulkarni

Rohit Kulkarni

Department of Cell Biology

Joslin Diabetes Center
Research, Room 410
One Joslin Place
Boston, MA 02215
Tel: 617-309-3460
Fax: 617-309-3476
Lab Members: 5 postdoctoral fellows, 2 instructors, 2 graduate students, 1 lab manager, 2 research assistants


My lab continues to focus on investigating the significance of the growth factor (e.g. insulin and IGF) signaling pathways in the modulation of glucose sensing of beta cells, proinsulin processing, mitochondrial function, protection against apoptosis and ER stress and in regulating the expression of transcription factors in islet cells. We continue to create genetic models to examine the roles of insulin and IGF-1 and -2 receptors and their substrates (insulin receptor substrates; IRS-1,2,3,4) and proteins downstream (e.g. Akt, FoxO1, PDX-1) in islet biology. For example, we have used Cre-LoxP and Flp-Frt techniques to create beta- or alpha-cell-specific knockout of multiple proteins to complement in vitro models using primary islets from humans and rodents and derived beta and alpha cell lines from the knockouts. Using these powerful and unique reagents we are investigating cross-talk between insulin, IGF-I, glucose and incretin (glucagon like-peptide-1) and leptin signaling mechanisms in islet cells. A major effort is directed towards evaluating specificity of insulin versus IGF signaling and their substrates in islet cell biology during embryonic and adult life. We are studying pathways utilized by lymphocytes that allow regeneration of beta cells in type 1 diabetes using NOD mice. To investigate the high incidence of type 2 diabetes in obese individuals we propose a potential link between adipocyte-derived factors (e.g. leptin) and growth factor signaling pathways at the level of the islet, to underlie islet function and growth. This hypothesis is being examined using islet-cell-specific knockouts of insulin and/or IGF-1 receptors and their substrates and the leptin receptor (ObRb) in mice. These studies will advance the field on several fronts - first, it will allow us to gain greater insights into the fundamental physiological mechanisms that govern the normal proliferation of the cell types and secretory function of the pancreatic islets; second, it will provide a physiological basis to identify targets in signaling pathways that would be useful to design potential therapeutic strategies to prevent islet cell death and to plan alternative approaches to generate new beta cells to prevent and/or cure type 1 and type 2 diabetes.


While there continues to be debate regarding the origin of human and rodent islet cells, a major focus in our laboratory is to derive induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells from skin fibroblasts and/or blood cells derived from living human donors (MODY and type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients) and rodent models with the long term goal of differentiating them into mature islet cells (e.g. insulin, glucagon secreting cells). There is also a focus on differentiating iPS cells into cells that are targets for complications observed in patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes (e.g. vascular endothelial cells, neuronal cells, kidney cells, retinal pericytes). These approaches allow us to generate unique cells that maintain the genetic make-up of the living individual that would otherwise be unavailable, with the potential for characterizing their signaling properties, and for screening drugs to identity the most effective medications for individual patients.


We are using transplantation and parabiotic approaches and techniques that allow us to investigate inter-organ communication and the identification of circulating islet cell growth factors (e.g. between islets and liver or white/brown adipose). Identification of these putative factors will have the potential for harnessing them into therapeutics to enhance functional beta cell mass to counter type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Last Update: 8/6/2015


For a complete listing of publications click here.



Kahraman S, Dirice E, De Jesus DF, Hu J, Kulkarni RN. Maternal insulin resistance and transient hyperglycemia impacts the metabolic and endocrine phenotypes of offspring. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 307(10):E906-18, 2014. PMID: 25249504 PMCID:PMC4233258

El Ouaamari A, Zhou J-Y, Liew CW, Shirakawa J, Dirice E, Gedeon N, Kahraman S, De Jesus DF, Bhatt S, Kim J-S, Clauss T, Camp D, Smith R, Qian W-J,
Kulkarni RN. Compensatory islet response to insulin resistance revealed by quantitative proteomics. J Proteome Res July 7, 2015 PMID:26151086

Bhatt S, Gupta MK, Khamaisi M, Martinez R, Gritsenko MA, Wagner BK, Guye P, Busskamp V, Shirakawa J, Valdez I, Wu G, Liew CW, El Ouaamari A, Dirice E, Takatani T, Keenan HA, Smith RD, Church G, Wagers AJ, Weiss R, Qian W-J, King GL,
Kulkarni RN. Preserved DNA damage checkpoint pathway protects from complications in long-standing type 1 diabetes. Cell Metabolism 22(2):239-242, 2015

Gupta MK, Teo AKK, Rao TN, Bhatt S, Kleinridders A, Shirakawa J, Takatani, T, Hu J, De Jesus DF, Windmueller R, Wagers AJ,
Kulkarni RN. Excessive cellular proliferation negatively impacts reprogramming efficiency of human fibroblasts. Stem Cells Transl Med 2015 (in press)

Valdez I, Teo AKK,
Kulkarni RN. Cellular stress drives pancreatic plasticity. Science Transl Med 7(273):273ps2, 2015. PMID:25653218

Stewart AF, Hussain MA, Garcia-Ocana A, Vasavada RC, Bhushan A, Berbal-Mizrachi E,
Kulkarni RN. Human beta cell proliferation and intracellular signaling: Part 3. Diabetes 64(6):2780-2790, 2015. PMID:25999530 PMCID:PMC4439562

Teo AKK, Gupta M, Doria A,
Kulkarni RN. Dissecting diabetes/metabolic disease mechanisms using pluripotent stem cells and genome editing tools. Mol Metabolism 2015 doi. 10.1016/j.molmet.2015.06.007 (in press)

© 2015 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College