Cell fractionation, enzyme analysis, and electron microscopy were used to study the effects of streptozotocin-induced diabetes and insulin replacement on liver structure and function. In liver homogenates from diabetic rats, glucose-6-phosphatase (G-6-Pase) activity was stimulated about 21/2-fold over that found in normal animals. Analyses of isolated rough and smooth microsomes from diabetic rats for G-6-Pase activity showed a fourfold increase in the smooth microsomes and a small increase in enzyme activity in rough microsomes when compared with these fractions from control animals. Associated with the increased enzyme activity was a reduction in liver glycogen. Insulin treatment of the diabetic rats caused a fall in homogenate G-6-Pase levels to approximately normal values and stimulated the accumulation of hepatic glycogen. Administration of insulin to these animals also caused a decrease in G-6-Pase activity, which was most pronounced in the smooth microsomes.
Studies with the electron microscope revealed ultrastructural alterations in livers of the diabetic rats, which were most striking in the periportal region of the lobule. Periportal hepatocytes from diabetic rats displayed dispersed particles of glycogen separated by cytoplasm rich in SER rather than dense masses of glycogen with little SER, as is characteristic of these cells in normal animals. Centrilobular cells from the diabetic animals displayed some disorganization of the RER and a dispersed pattern of glycogen with abundant SER, similar to the pattern found in these cells from normal animals. After insulin treatment the periportal cells appeared normal morphologically, whereas the centrilobular hepatocytes displayed regions of both dense masses and dispersed glycogen. In the glycogen masses, little SER was found; however, in the areas of dispersed glycogen particles, an abundance of this organelle was evident.
We conclude from these studies that diabetes causes an increase in amount of hepatic smooth endoplasmic reticulum (SER), especially within periportal hepatocytes. The results of cell fractionation indicate that membranes of the smooth endoplasmic reticulum are enriched in G-6-Pase. We interpret these results to indicate that diabetes causes hepatocytes to form additional smooth endoplasmic reticulum with specialized membranes, at least with respect to G-6-Pase. It is suggested that this cellular specialization is a response of the hepatocyte to the diabetic state, namely, a demand for increased hepatic glucose production and release into the blood stream, thus contributing to the hyperglycemia characteristic of this disease. Insulin administration to the diabetic animals reverses the above alterations.