Background: Ion transporters of the Slc30A- (ZnT-) family regulate zinc fluxes into sub-cellular compartments. beta-cells depend on zinc for both insulin crystallization and regulation of cell mass.
Methodology/principal findings: This study examined: the effect of glucose and zinc chelation on ZnT gene and protein levels and apoptosis in beta-cells and pancreatic islets, the effects of ZnT-3 knock-down on insulin secretion in a beta-cell line and ZnT-3 knock-out on glucose metabolism in mice during streptozotocin-induced beta-cell stress. In INS-1E cells 2 mM glucose down-regulated ZnT-3 and up-regulated ZnT-5 expression relative to 5 mM. 16 mM glucose increased ZnT-3 and decreased ZnT-8 expression. Zinc chelation by DEDTC lowered INS-1E insulin content and insulin expression. Furthermore, zinc depletion increased ZnT-3- and decreased ZnT-8 gene expression whereas the amount of ZnT-3 protein in the cells was decreased. Zinc depletion and high glucose induced apoptosis and necrosis in INS-1E cells. The most responsive zinc transporter, ZnT-3, was investigated further; by immunohistochemistry and western blotting ZnT-3 was demonstrated in INS-1E cells. 44% knock-down of ZnT-3 by siRNA transfection in INS-1E cells decreased insulin expression and secretion. Streptozotocin-treated mice had higher glucose levels after ZnT-3 knock-out, particularly in overt diabetic animals.
Conclusion/significance: Zinc transporting proteins in beta-cells respond to variations in glucose and zinc levels. ZnT-3, which is pivotal in the development of cellular changes as also seen in type 2 diabetes (e.g. amyloidosis in Alzheimer's disease) but not previously described in beta-cells, is present in this cell type, up-regulated by glucose in a concentration dependent manner and up-regulated by zinc depletion which by contrast decreased ZnT-3 protein levels. Knock-down of the ZnT-3 gene lowers insulin secretion in vitro and affects in vivo glucose metabolism after streptozotocin treatment.