Glycogen synthase kinase-3 and mammalian target of rapamycin pathways contribute to DNA synthesis, cell cycle progression, and proliferation in human islets

Diabetes. 2009 Mar;58(3):663-72. doi: 10.2337/db07-1208. Epub 2008 Dec 10.


Objective: Our previous studies demonstrated that nutrient regulation of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling promotes regenerative processes in rodent islets but rarely in human islets. Our objective was to extend these findings by using therapeutic agents to determine whether the regulation of glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3)/beta-catenin and mTOR signaling represent key components necessary for effecting a positive impact on human beta-cell mass relevant to type 1 and 2 diabetes.

Research design and methods: Primary adult human and rat islets were treated with the GSK-3 inhibitors, LiCl and the highly potent 1-azakenpaullone (1-Akp), and with nutrients. DNA synthesis, cell cycle progression, and proliferation of beta-cells were assessed. Measurement of insulin secretion and content and Western blot analysis of GSK-3 and mTOR signaling components were performed.

Results: Human islets treated for 4 days with LiCl or 1-Akp exhibited significant increases in DNA synthesis, cell cycle progression, and proliferation of beta-cells that displayed varying degrees of sensitivity to rapamycin. Intermediate glucose (8 mmol/l) produced a striking degree of synergism in combination with GSK-3 inhibition to enhance bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) incorporation and Ki-67 expression in human beta-cells. Nuclear translocation of beta-catenin responsible for cell proliferation was found to be particularly sensitive to rapamycin.

Conclusions: A combination of GSK-3 inhibition and nutrient activation of mTOR contributes to enhanced DNA synthesis, cell cycle progression, and proliferation of human beta-cells. Identification of therapeutic agents that appropriately regulate GSK-3 and mTOR signaling may provide a feasible and available approach to enhance human islet growth and proliferation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Cell Cycle / physiology*
  • Cell Division / physiology*
  • DNA Replication* / drug effects
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / enzymology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / physiopathology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / enzymology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / pharmacology
  • Islets of Langerhans / cytology*
  • Islets of Langerhans / enzymology
  • Islets of Langerhans / physiology*
  • Ki-67 Antigen / genetics
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Protein Kinases / genetics
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Signal Transduction
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Young Adult


  • Insulin
  • Ki-67 Antigen
  • Protein Kinases
  • MTOR protein, human
  • mTOR protein, rat
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3