Special features of glucose metabolism in pancreatic β-cells are central to an understanding of the physiological role of these cells in glucose homeostasis. Several of these characteristics are emphasized: a high-capacity system for glucose transport; glucose phosphorylation by the high-Km glucokinase (GK), which is rate-limiting for glucose metabolism and determines physiologically the glucose dependency curves of many processes in β-cell intermediary and energy metabolism and of insulin release and is therefore viewed as glucose sensor; remarkably low activity of lactate dehydrogenase and the presence of effective hydrogen shuttles to allow virtually quantitative oxidation of glycolytic NADH; the near absence of glycogen and fatty acid synthesis and of gluconeogenesis, such that intermediary metabolism is primarily catabolic; a crucial role of mitochondrial processes, including the citric acid cycle, electron transport, and oxidative phosphorylation with FoF1 ATPase governing the glucose-dependent increase of the ATP mass-action ratio; a Ca2+-independent glucose-induced respiratory burst and increased ATP production in β-cells as striking manifestations of crucial mitochondrial reactions; control of the membrane potential by the mass-action ratio of ATP and voltage-dependent Ca2+ influx as signal for insulin release; accumulation of malonyl-CoA, acyl-CoA, and diacylglycerol as essential or auxiliary metabolic coupling factors; and amplification of the adenine nucleotide, lipid-related, and Ca2+ signals to recruit many auxiliary processes to maximize insulin biosynthesis and release. The biochemical design also suggests certain candidate diabetes genes related to fuel metabolism: low-activity and low-stability GK mutants that explain in part the maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY) phenotype in humans and mitochondrial DNA mutations of FoF1 ATPase components thought to cause late-onset diabetes in BHEcdb rats. These two examples are chosen to illustrate that metabolic reactions with high control strength participating in β-cell energy metabolism and generating coupling factors and intracellular signals are steps with great susceptibility to genetic, environmental, and pharmacological influences. Glucose metabolism of β-cells also controls, in addition to insulin secretion and insulin biosynthesis, an adaptive response to excessive fuel loads and may increase the β-cell mass by hypertrophy, hyperplasia, and neogenesis. It is probable that this adaptive response is compromised in diabetes because of the GK or ATPase mutants that are highlighted here. A comprehensive knowledge of β-cell intermediary and energy metabolism is therefore the foundation for understanding the role of these cells in fuel homeostasis and in the pathogenesis of the most prevalent metabolic disease, diabetes.

This content is only available via PDF.