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Open access

Rui Gao, Samuel Acreman, Jinfang Ma, Fernando Abdulkader, Anna Wendt, and Quan Zhang

Glucagon is the principal glucose-elevating hormone that forms the first-line defence against hypoglycaemia. Along with insulin, glucagon also plays a key role in maintaining systemic glucose homeostasis. The cells that secrete glucagon, pancreatic α-cells, are electrically excitable cells and use electrical activity to couple its hormone secretion to changes in ambient glucose levels. Exactly how glucose regulates α-cells has been a topic of debate for decades but it is clear that electrical signals generated by the cells play an important role in glucagon secretory response. Decades of studies have already revealed the key players involved in the generation of these electrical signals and possible mechanisms controlling them to tune glucagon release. This has offered the opportunity to fully understand the enigmatic α-cell physiology. In this review, we describe the current knowledge on cellular electrophysiology and factors regulating excitability, glucose sensing, and glucagon secretion. We also discuss α-cell pathophysiology and the perspective of addressing glucagon secretory defects in diabetes for developing better diabetes treatment, which bears the hope of eliminating hypoglycaemia as a clinical problem in diabetes care.

Free access

Juan P Zúñiga-Hertz, Eduardo Rebelato, Adam Kassan, Abdelrahman M Khalifa, Sameh S Ali, Hemal H Patel, and Fernando Abdulkader

Results from previous investigations have indicated that glucose-stimulated insulin secretion (GSIS) is affected by changes in cholesterol and its intermediates, but the precise link between secretion and cholesterol has not been thoroughly investigated. In this study, we show the contribution of both protein isoprenylation and cholesterol-dependent plasma membrane structural integrity to insulin secretion in INS-1E cells and mouse islets. Acute (2 h) inhibition of hydroxyl-methylglutaryl-CoA reductase by simvastatin (SIM) resulted in inhibition of GSIS without reduction in total cellular cholesterol content. This effect was prevented by cell loading with the isoprenyl molecule geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate. Chronic (24 h) inhibition of cholesterol biosynthesis resulted in inhibition of GSIS with a significant reduction in total cellular cholesterol content, which was also observed after the inhibition of cholesterol biosynthesis downstream of isoprenoid formation. Electron paramagnetic resonance analyses of INS-1E cells showed that the SIM-induced reduction in cholesterol increased plasma membrane fluidity. Thus, the blockade of cholesterol biosynthesis resulted in the reduction of availability of isoprenoids, followed by a reduction in the total cholesterol content associated with an increase in plasma membrane fluidity. Herein, we show the different contributions of cholesterol biosynthesis to GSIS, and propose that isoprenoid molecules and cholesterol-dependent signaling are dual regulators of proper β-cell function.