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Am J Med. 1990 Aug 20;89(2A):3S-10S; discussion 51S-53S.

Molecular mechanisms of action of glyburide on the beta cell.

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Department of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas 77030.


A high-affinity sulfonylurea receptor has been identified on the plasma membrane of the beta cell. The potent second-generation sulfonylureas, glyburide and glipizide, saturate the receptor in the low nM concentration range, whereas first-generation drugs bind to and saturate the receptor in the microM range. For each of the sulfonylureas, there is excellent quantitative agreement among the equilibrium binding constant (Kd), the half-maximal inhibition of potassium ion (K+) efflux (K0.5), and the half-maximal stimulation of insulin secretion (ED50), when these values are obtained from insulin-secreting cell lines or from isolated mouse pancreatic islets. The inhibition of K+ efflux by the sulfonylureas, coupled with the sulfonylurea inhibition of the activity of a specific adenosine triphosphate (ATP)-sensitive K+ channel embedded in the plasma membrane of whole cells or in excised membrane patches, suggests that the sulfonylurea receptor is this channel protein or a closely associated subunit. The activity of the ATP-sensitive K+ channel is also controlled by the insulin secretagogues, glucose and certain amino acids. These compounds must be metabolized to inhibit the channel activity and appear to do so by increasing the level of ATP or by increasing the ATP/adenosine diphosphate (ADP) ratio. ATP reduces channel activity by binding to a specific nucleotide-binding site on the cytoplasmic surface of the protein. There is a synergy between the action of glucose and that of the sulfonylureas. The sulfonylureas, for example, are better effectors of insulin secretion in the presence of glucose. Inhibition of the ATP-sensitive K+ channels results in depolarization of the plasma membrane and a subsequent influx of extracellular calcium ions through voltage-dependent calcium channels. An increase in the free intracellular calcium level is the signal, or "second messenger," that triggers exocytosis and the release of insulin. The sulfonylurea receptor has a molecular weight of 140,000 and can be solubilized by digitonin, retaining the same rank order of sulfonylurea binding affinities as the membrane-bound protein. Several laboratories are currently purifying the receptor and/or cloning the receptor gene.

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