Glucose is the main physiological regulator of insulin biosynthesis and secretion. To exert an effect on biosynthesis, stimulatory concentrations of glucose act on insulin gene expression at both transcriptional and posttranscriptional levels. The relative importance of these two effects is controversial. Studies on the effect of decreasing glucose concentrations in vitro have been contradictory as to its rapidity and magnitude. We have investigated whether a decrease in glucose concentrations from a stimulatory (11 mM) to a nonstimulatory (2 mM) level regulates insulin gene expression in both isolated rat islets and INS-1 cells, an insulinoma-derived cell line that retains a number of the differentiation characteristics of native α-cells. We show that, in the presence of a nonstimulatory concentration of glucose, insulin mRNA levels decrease rapidly in both rat islets and INS-1 cells. Low glucose decreases insulin gene expression at the transcriptional level, and this effect is mediated by DNA sequences present within 254 base pairs of the 5′-flank of the rat insulin I gene. We conclude that lowering glucose from 11 to 2 mM decreases insulin mRNA rapidly by a transcriptional effect.

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