Aim/hypothesis: Hyperinsulinaemia maintains euglycaemia in insulin-resistant states. The precise cellular mechanisms by which the beta cells adapt are still unresolved. A peripherally derived cue, such as increased circulating fatty acids, may instruct the beta cell to initiate an adaptive programme to maintain glucose homeostasis. When this fails, type 2 diabetes ensues. Because mitochondria play a key role in beta cell pathophysiology, we tested the hypothesis that mitochondrial metabolism is critical for beta cell adaptation to insulin resistance.
Methods: C57BL/6J mice were given high-fat (HF) diet for 12 weeks. We then analysed islet hormone secretion, metabolism in vivo and in vitro, and beta cell morphology.
Results: HF diet resulted in insulin resistance and glucose intolerance but not frank diabetes. Basal insulin secretion was elevated in isolated islets from HF mice with almost no additional response provoked by high glucose. In contrast, a strong secretory response was seen when islets from HF mice were stimulated with fuels that require mitochondrial metabolism, such as glutamate, glutamine, alpha-ketoisocaproic acid and succinate. Moreover, while glucose oxidation was impaired in islets from HF mice, oxidation of glutamine and palmitate was enhanced. Ultrastructural analysis of islets in HF mice revealed an accumulation of lipid droplets in beta cells and a twofold increase in mitochondrial area.
Conclusions/interpretation: We propose that beta cells exposed to increased lipid flux in insulin resistance respond by increasing mitochondrial volume. This expansion is associated with enhanced mitochondrial metabolism as a means of beta cell compensation.