To study the regulation of growth and differentiated function of insulin-secreting cells, the rat insulinoma cell line INS-1 was cultured in a defined serum-free medium containing prolactin, IGF-I, and triiodothyronine, which was originally reported to maintain insulin secretion of islet cells. Growth and viability, as well as cellular insulin content of INS-1 cells in the defined medium, were comparable to the control cells cultured in the complete medium containing 10% fetal calf serum. However, after a 3-day culture in this medium, insulin secretion in response to glucose, pyruvate, and leucine was markedly blunted compared with the control cells (−78, −68, and −56%, respectively), whereas the response to 30 mmol/1 K+ was only slightly decreased. In these cells: 1) nutrient metabolism assessed by tetrazolium salt reduction was reduced in response to pyruvate and leucine, which are mainly metabolized in the mitochondria; 2) oxidation of both [3,4-14C]glucose and [1-14C]pyruvate was decreased (−22 and −32%, respectively); 3) glucose failed to depolarize the membrane potential, whereas tolbutamide was fully active; 4) video imaging analysis of cytosolic Ca2+ showed a decrease in the population of glucose-responsive cells, while the response to 30 mmol/1 K+ was preserved; 5) serum replenishment for 3 days restored glucose-induced insulin secretion. Interestingly, conditioned serum-free medium from rat islets maintained the insulin secretory function of INS-1 cells, although glucagon, somatostatin, and some other factors failed to restore the function. In contrast, conditioned media from HepG2, PC12, and human umbilical vein endothelial cells did not substitute for serum. Thus, the impaired insulin secretion of the cells cultured in the defined medium is best explained by defective mito-chondrial metabolism. Islet cells, but not INS-1 cells, produce factors required for normal signal generation by nutrient secretagogues.

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