Zinc ions in beta-cells of obese, insulin-resistant, and type 2 diabetic rats traced by autometallography

APMIS. 2003 Dec;111(12):1147-54. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0463.2003.apm1111211.x.


Zinc ions in the secretory granules of beta-cells are known to glue insulin molecules, creating osmotically stable hexamers. When the secretory granules open to the surface, the zinc ion pressure decreases rapidly and pH levels change from acid to physiological, which results in free insulin monomers and zinc ions. The released zinc ions have been suggested to be involved in a paracrine regulation of alpha- and beta-cells. Since zinc is intimately involved in insulin metabolism and because zinc homeostasis is known to be disturbed in type 2 diabetes, we decided to study the ultrastructural localisation of zinc ions in insulin-resistant and type 2 diabetic rats as compared to controls. By means of autometallography, the only method available for demonstrating zinc ions at ultrastructural levels, we found zinc ions in the secretory granules and adjacent to the plasma membrane. The membrane-related staining outside the plasma membrane reflects release of zinc ions during exocytosis. No apparent difference was found in the ultrastructural localisation of zinc ions when we compared the obese Zucker (fa/fa) rats, representing the insulin resistance syndrome, and the GK rats, representing type 2 diabetes, with controls. This suggests that the ultrastructural localisation of zinc ions is unaffected by the development of type 2 diabetes in rats in a steady state of glycaemia.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diabetes Mellitus / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus / pathology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / pathology*
  • Female
  • Glucose Tolerance Test
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Islets of Langerhans / chemistry
  • Islets of Langerhans / pathology*
  • Islets of Langerhans / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Immunoelectron
  • Obesity*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Zucker
  • Zinc / analysis*


  • Zinc