Mitochondrial oxidative stress contributes differently to rat pancreatic islet cell apoptosis and insulin secretory defects after prolonged culture in a low non-stimulating glucose concentration

Diabetologia. 2012 Aug;55(8):2226-37. doi: 10.1007/s00125-012-2581-6. Epub 2012 May 29.


Aims/hypothesis: Pancreatic beta cells chronically exposed to low glucose concentrations show signs of oxidative stress, loss of glucose-stimulated insulin secretion (GSIS) and increased apoptosis. Our aim was to confirm the role of mitochondrial oxidative stress in rat islet cell apoptosis under these culture conditions and to evaluate whether its reduction similarly improves survival and GSIS.

Methods: Apoptosis, oxidative stress-response gene mRNA expression and glucose-induced stimulation of mitochondrial metabolism, intracellular Ca(2+) concentration and insulin secretion were measured in male Wistar rat islets cultured for 1 week in RPMI medium containing 5-10 mmol/l glucose with or without manganese(III)tetrakis(4-benzoic acid)porphyrin (MnTBAP) or N-acetyl-L-: cysteine (NAC). Oxidative stress was measured in islet cell clusters cultured under similar conditions using cytosolic and mitochondrial redox-sensitive green fluorescent protein (roGFP1/mt-roGFP1).

Results: Prolonged culture in 5 vs 10 mmol/l glucose increased mt-roGFP1 (but not roGFP1) oxidation followed by beta cell apoptosis and loss of GSIS resulting from reduced insulin content, mitochondrial metabolism, Ca(2+) influx and Ca(2+)-induced secretion. Tolbutamide-induced, but not high K(+)-induced, Ca(2+) influx was also suppressed. Under these conditions, MnTBAP, but not NAC, triggered parallel ~50-70% reductions in mt-roGFP1 oxidation and beta cell apoptosis, but failed to protect against the loss of GSIS despite significant improvement in glucose-induced and tolbutamide-induced Ca(2+) influx.

Conclusions/interpretation: Mitochondrial oxidative stress contributes differently to rat pancreatic islet cell apoptosis and insulin secretory defects during culture in a low glucose concentration. Thus, targeting beta cell survival may not be sufficient to restore insulin secretion when beta cells suffer from prolonged mitochondrial oxidative stress, e.g. in the context of reduced glucose metabolism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Glutathione / pharmacology
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / pharmacology
  • Insulin / biosynthesis*
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Insulin Secretion
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / metabolism*
  • Luminescent Measurements / methods
  • Male
  • Metalloporphyrins / pharmacology*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects*
  • Pancreas, Exocrine / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar


  • Insulin
  • Metalloporphyrins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • manganese(III)-tetrakis(4-benzoic acid)porphyrin
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Glutathione