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Mol Genet Metab. 2005 Nov;86(3):401-11. Epub 2005 Aug 15.

Regulation of human erythrocyte metabolism by insulin: cellular distribution of 6-phosphofructo-1-kinase and its implication for red blood cell function.

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Laboratório de Enzimologia e Controle do Metabolismo (LabECoM), Departamento de Fármacos, Faculdade de Farmácia, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Ilha do Fundão, Rio de Janeiro, RJ 21941-590, Brazil.


Human erythrocytes are highly specialized cells whose function is oxygen transport. These cells' sole metabolic source of energy is the fermentation of glucose via glycolysis. They contain an active insulin receptor and respond to insulin by increasing phosphorylation of tyrosine residues in several proteins. However, no metabolic effects have yet been associated with activation of this receptor in human erythrocytes. Here, we show that insulin increases the rate of glycolysis in human erythrocytes. Lactate production increased 56 and 173% in the presence of 10 and 100 nM insulin, respectively. A higher insulin concentration (1000 nM) partially reversed the stimulation of glycolysis. These effects occur through activation of the key glycolytic enzyme 6-phosphofructo-1-kinase, which exhibits the same pattern of modulation by insulin as seen for glycolytic flux. This modulation also occurs physiologically since ex vivo experiments revealed 50% stimulation of 6-phosphofructo-1-kinase (PFK) activity following a high carbohydrate meal. Insulin increases phosphorylation of PFK and redistributes the enzyme in red blood cells, causing it to detach from the erythrocyte membrane: upon insulin stimulation, the amount of enzyme associated with the plasma decreases by 86%. Detachment is a common mechanism of enzyme activation. As a consequence, insulin prevents up to 68% of red cells hemolysis. These results show that insulin regulates erythrocyte glycolysis and viability and suggest that this regulation is associated to other erythrocyte functions such as oxygen transport. Finally, we suggest that this regulatory mechanism might be compromised in patients with diabetes mellitus.

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