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Biochem J. 2010 Mar 15;427(1):143-50. doi: 10.1042/BJ20091529.

Stimulation of GLUT4 (glucose transporter isoform 4) storage vesicle formation by sphingolipid depletion.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, MN 55905, USA.


Insulin stimulates glucose transport in fat and skeletal muscle cells primarily by inducing the translocation of GLUT4 (glucose transporter isoform 4) to the PM (plasma membrane) from specialized GSVs (GLUT4 storage vesicles). Glycosphingolipids are components of membrane microdomains and are involved in insulin-regulated glucose transport. Cellular glycosphingolipids decrease during adipocyte differentiation and have been suggested to be involved in adipocyte function. In the present study, we investigated the role of glycosphingolipids in regulating GLUT4 translocation. We decreased glycosphingolipids in 3T3-L1 adipocytes using glycosphingolipid synthesis inhibitors and investigated the effects on GLUT4 translocation using immunocytochemistry, preparation of PM sheets, isolation of GSVs and FRAP (fluorescence recovery after photobleaching) of GLUT4-GFP (green fluorescent protein) in intracellular structures. Glycosphingolipids were located in endosomal vesicles in pre-adipocytes and redistributed to the PM with decreased expression at day 2 after initiation of differentiation. In fully differentiated adipocytes, depletion of glycosphingolipids dramatically accelerated insulin-stimulated GLUT4 translocation. Although insulin-induced phosphorylation of IRS (insulin receptor substrate) and Akt remained intact in glycosphingolipid-depleted cells, both in vitro budding of GLUT4 vesicles and FRAP of GLUT4-GFP on GSVs were stimulated. Glycosphingolipid depletion also enhanced the insulin-induced translocation of VAMP2 (vesicle-associated membrane protein 2), but not the transferrin receptor or cellubrevin, indicating that the effect of glycosphingolipids was specific to VAMP2-positive GSVs. Our results strongly suggest that decreasing glycosphingolipid levels promotes the formation of GSVs and, thus, GLUT4 translocation. These studies provide a mechanistic basis for recent studies showing that inhibition of glycosphingolipid synthesis improves glycaemic control and enhances insulin sensitivity in animal models of Type 2 diabetes.

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