In obesity, increased mitochondrial metabolism with the accumulation of oxidative stress leads to mitochondrial damage and β-cell dysfunction. In particular, β-cells express antioxidant enzymes at relatively low levels and are highly vulnerable to oxidative stress. Early in the development of obesity, β-cells exhibit increased glucose-stimulated insulin secretion in order to compensate for insulin resistance. This increase in β-cell function under the condition of enhanced metabolic stress suggests that β-cells possess a defense mechanism against increased oxidative damage, which may become insufficient or decline at the onset of type 2 diabetes. Here, we show that metabolic stress induces β-cell hypoxia inducible factor 2α (HIF-2α), which stimulates antioxidant gene expression (e.g., Sod2 and Cat) and protects against mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS) and subsequent mitochondrial damage. Knockdown of HIF-2α in Min6 cells exaggerated chronic high glucose–induced mitochondrial damage and β-cell dysfunction by increasing mitochondrial ROS levels. Moreover, inducible β-cell HIF-2α knockout mice developed more severe β-cell dysfunction and glucose intolerance on a high-fat diet, along with increased ROS levels and decreased islet mitochondrial mass. Our results provide a previously unknown mechanism through which β-cells defend against increased metabolic stress to promote β-cell compensation in obesity.

J.B.S. is currently affiliated with Mokpo National University, Cheonggye-myeon, Republic of Korea.

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