The molecular mechanism of the insulin-mimetic/sensitizing activity of the antidiabetic sulfonylurea drug Amaryl

Mol Med. 2000 Nov;6(11):907-33.


The hypoglycemic sulfonylurea drugs cause reduction of blood glucose predominantly via stimulation of insulin release from pancreatic beta cells. In addition, during long-term treatment, an insulin-independent blood glucose-decreasing mechanism is assumed to operate. This may include insulin-sensitizing and insulin-mimetic activity in muscle and adipose tissue. This review summarizes our current knowledge about the putative modes of action of the sulfonylurea compound, Amaryl, in pancreatic beta cells and, in particular, peripheral target cells that form the molecular basis for its characteristic pharmacological and clinical profile. The analysis was performed in comparison with the conventional and the "golden standard" sulfonylurea, glibenclamide. I conclude: (I) The blood glucose decrease provoked by Amaryl can be explained by a combination of stimulation of insulin release from the pancreas and direct enhancement, as well as potentiation of the insulin response of glucose utilization in peripheral tissues only. (II) The underlying molecular mechanisms seemed to rely on beta cells on a sulfonylurea receptor protein, SURX, associated with the ATP-sensitive potassium channel (K(ATP)) and different from SUR1 for glibenclamide, and in muscle and adipose cells on: (a) the increased production of diacylglycerol and activation of protein kinase C; (b) the enhanced expression of glucose transporter isoforms; and (c) the insulin receptor-independent activation of the insulin receptor substrate/phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase pathway. (III) The latter mechanism involved a nonreceptor tyrosine kinase and a number of components, such as caveolin and glycosylphosphatidylinositol structures, which are assembled in caveolae/detergent-insoluble glycolipid-enriched rafts of the target cell plasma membrane. Since hyperinsulinism and permanent K(ATP) closure are supposed to negatively affect the pathogenesis and therapy of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, the demonstrated higher insulin-independent blood glucose-lowering activity of Amaryl may be therapeutically relevant.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Caveolin 1
  • Caveolins / chemistry
  • Caveolins / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Insulin / physiology*
  • Islets of Langerhans / drug effects
  • Molecular Mimicry
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Sulfonylurea Compounds / pharmacology*


  • CAV1 protein, human
  • Caveolin 1
  • Caveolins
  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Insulin
  • Sulfonylurea Compounds
  • glimepiride