Zinc, not insulin, regulates the rat α-cell response to hypoglycemia in vivo

Huarong Zhou, Tao Zhang, Jamie S. Harmon, Joseph Bryan, R. Paul Robertson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


The intraislet insulin hypothesis proposes that the decrement in β-cell insulin secretion during hypoglycemia provides an activation signal for α-cells to release glucagon. A more recent hypothesis proposes that zinc atoms suppress glucagon secretion via their ability to open α-cell ATP-sensitive K+ channels. Since insulin binds zinc, and zinc is cosecreted with insulin, we tested whether decreased zinc delivery to the α-cell activates glucagon secretion. In streptozotocin-induced diabetic Wistar rats, we observed that switching off intrapancreatic artery insulin infusions in vivo during hypoglycemia greatly improved glucagon secretion (area under the curve [AUC]: control group 240 ± 261 and experimental group 4,346 ± 1,259 pg · ml-1 · 90 min-1; n = 5, P < 0.02). Switching off pancreatic artery infusions of zinc chloride during hypoglycemia also improved the glucagon response (AUC: control group 817 ± 107 and experimental group 3,445 ± 573 pg · ml -1 · 90 min-1; n = 6, P < 0.01). However, switching off zinc-free insulin infusions had no effect. Studies of glucose uptake in muscle and liver cell lines verified that the zinc-free insulin was biologically active. We conclude that zinc atoms, not the insulin molecule itself, provide the switch-off signal from the β-cell to the α-cell to initiate glucagon secretion during hypoglycemia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1107-1112
Number of pages6
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2007
Externally publishedYes


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