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J Biol Chem. 2011 Jul 22;286(29):25778-89. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M111.246082. Epub 2011 May 25.

Glucose regulates free cytosolic Zn²⁺ concentration, Slc39 (ZiP), and metallothionein gene expression in primary pancreatic islet β-cells.

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Section of Cell Biology, Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Exhibition Road, London SW7 2AZ, UK.


Zn²⁺ is an important cofactor for insulin biosynthesis and storage in pancreatic β-cells. Correspondingly, polymorphisms in the SLC30A8 gene, encoding the secretory granule Zn²⁺ transporter ZnT8, are associated with type 2 diabetes risk. Using a genetically engineered (FRET)-based sensor (eCALWY-4), we show here that elevated glucose time-dependently increases free cytosolic Zn²⁺ ([Zn²⁺](cyt)) in mouse pancreatic β-cells. These changes become highly significant (853 ± 96 pm versus 452 ± 42 pm, p < 0.001) after 24 h and are associated with increased expression of the Zn²⁺ importer family members Slc39a6, Slc39a7, and Slc39a8, and decreased expression of metallothionein 1 and 2. Arguing that altered expression of the above genes is not due to altered [Zn²⁺](cyt), elevation of extracellular (and intracellular) [Zn²⁺] failed to mimic the effects of high glucose. By contrast, increases in intracellular cAMP prompted by 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine and forskolin partially mimicked the effects of glucose on metallothionein, although not ZiP, gene expression. Modulation of intracellular Ca²⁺ and insulin secretion with pharmacological agents (tolbutamide and diazoxide) suggested a possible role for changes in these parameters in the regulation of Slc39a6 and Slc39a7 but not Slc39a8, nor metallothionein expression. In summary, 1) glucose induces increases in [Zn²⁺](cyt), which are then likely to facilitate the processing and/or the storage of insulin and its cocrystallization with Zn²⁺, and 2) these increases are associated with elevated expression of zinc importers. Conversely, a chronic increase in [Zn²⁺](cyt) following sustained hyperglycemia may contribute to β-cell dysfunction and death in some forms of diabetes.

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