Exercise is a first-line treatment for type 2 diabetes and preserves β-cell function by hitherto unknown mechanisms. We postulated that proteins from contracting skeletal muscle may act as cellular signals to regulate pancreatic β-cell function. We employed electric pulse stimulation (EPS) to induce contraction in C2C12 myotubes and found that treatment of β-cells with EPS-conditioned media (EPS-CM) enhanced glucose-stimulated insulin secretion (GSIS). Transcriptomics and subsequent targeted validation revealed Growth Differentiation Factor 15 (GDF15) as a central component of the skeletal muscle secretome. Exposure to recombinant GDF15 enhanced GSIS in cells, islets, and mice. GDF15 enhanced GSIS by upregulating the insulin secretion pathway in β-cells, which was abrogated in the presence of a GDF15 neutralizing antibody. The effect of GDF15 on GSIS was also observed in islets from GFRAL-deficient mice. Circulating GDF15 was incrementally elevated in patients with pre- and type 2 diabetes and positively associated with C-peptide in humans with overweight/obesity. Six weeks of high intensity exercise training increased circulating GDF15 concentrations, which positively correlated with improvements in β-cell function in patients with type 2 diabetes. Taken together, GDF15 can function as a contraction-induced protein that enhances GSIS through activating the canonical signaling pathway in a GFRAL-independent manner.
This article contains supplementary material online at https://doi.org/10.2337/figshare.23059439.