Glucose sensing and regulation of insulin secretion are the two main functions performed by the pancreatic beta-cell. Together these processes contribute to the tight control of blood glucose in our body. Compromising the ability of the beta-cells to properly secrete insulin can lead to the development of Type 2 diabetes. Mitochondria play an important role in beta-cell function, by integrating nutrients signals and modulating insulin secretion.
In this thesis, we aimed at better understanding the role of metabolism and mitochondria during glucose sensing and glucose-induced dysfunction in human pancreatic beta-cells. To that end, we designed three studies looking at different aspects of beta-cell mitochondrial function.
In the first one, we developed an in vitro model of glucose overload in human islet. We report an over activation of the mitochondria when returned to basal conditions after a 4 day culture in elevated glucose. Additionally, these mitochondria only poorly responded to nutrient stimulation. Impaired metabolism secretion coupling and insulin secretion indicated a partial loss of beta-cell function, despite the increased mitochondrial activity. After 4 days of elevated glucose treatment, unusually high levels of glycerol-3-phosphate and pyruvate, even in sub-stimulatory extracellular glucose concentrations, were observed. We propose that the accumulation of these metabolites renders beta-cells blind to subsequent glucose stimulation. After removing the glucose stress for 24 hours the mitochondrial energy metabolism was fully restored and metabolism-secretion coupling was normalized.
In the second approach, we measured for the first time the matrix pH in primary human pancreatic beta-cells. We showed that the mitochondrial pH in beta-cell is more acidic than in other cell types. Furthermore, in response to glucose, the beta-cell mitochondrial matrix slightly acidifies, possibly due to uptake and metabolism of pyruvate. Lastly, we observed that adenoviruses used to deliver the genetically encoded pH sensor can have an intrinsic impact on mitochondrial pH and calcium signaling. It must be used at low infection units per cell in the study of primary beta-cells.
In the third project, we tried to modify the mitochondrial energy metabolism in beta-cells by inhibiting mitochondrial protein synthesis. We used different antibiotics to achieve this, in particular chloramphenicol, known to interfere with the activity of the mitochondrial ribosome. Surprisingly, we observe that when mitochondrial protein synthesis is inhibited, the respiration of insulin-secreting cells (INS-1E cells, human islets) is not affected. Expression of mtDNA encoded respiratory chain subunits is reduced and a mitochondrial unfolded protein response initiated without reducing respiratory rates. This raises the possibility that limited activation of unfolded protein response has a positive effect on the cells.
This doctoral thesis provides novel insights into various aspects of mitochondrial behavior in pancreatic beta-cells, both during physiological and pathophysiological conditions. Additional work is needed to better understand the molecular mechanisms underlying the mitochondrial adaptation to nutrient overload and the associated beta-cell dysfunction leading to the accelerated impairment of glucose homeostasis during the development of Type 2 diabetes.EPFL