We studied the effects of fatty acid oxidation on insulin secretion of db/db mice and underlying molecular mechanisms of these effects. At 2–3 months of age, db/db mice were markedly obese, hyperglycemic, and hyperinsulinemic. Serum free fatty acid (FFA) levels were increased in 2-month-old (1.5 ± 0.1 vs. 1.1 ± 0.1 mmol/l, P < 0.05) and 3-month-old (1.9 ± 0.1 vs. 1.2 ± 0.1 mmol/l, P < 0.01) mice compared with the age and sex-matched db/+ mice serving as controls. Glucose-induced insulin release from db/db islets was markedly decreased compared with that from db/+ islets and was specifically ameliorated (by 54% in 2-month-old and 38% in 3-month-old mice) by exposure to a carnitine palmitoyltransferase I inhibitor, etomoxir (1 μmol/l). Etomoxir failed to affect the insulin response to α-ketoisocaproate. The effect of etomoxir on glucose-induced insulin release was lost after culturing db/db islets in RPMI medium containing 22 mmol/l glucose but no fatty acid. Culture of db/+ islets with 0.125 mmol/l palmitate led to a decrease in glucose-induced insulin secretion, which was partially reversible by etomoxir. Both islet glucose oxidation and the ratio of glucose oxidation to utilization were decreased in db/db islets. Etomoxir significantly enhanced glucose oxidation by 60% and also the ratio of oxidation to glucose utilization (from 27 ± 2.5 to 37 ±3.0%, P < 0.05). Pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) activity was decreased in islets of db/db mice (75 ±4.2 vs. 91 ± 2.9 nU/ng DNA, P < 0.01), whereas PDH kinase activity was increased (rate of PDH inactivation −0.25 ± 0.02 vs. −0.11 ± 0.02/min, P < 0.01). These abnormalities were partly but not wholly reversed by a 2-h preexposure to etomoxir. In conclusion, elevated FFA levels in the db/db mouse diminish glucose-induced insulin secretion by a glucose–fatty acid cycle in which fatty acid oxidation inhibits glucose oxidation by decreasing PDH activity and increasing PDH kinase activities.

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