Leucine stimulates insulin secretion via down-regulation of surface expression of adrenergic α2A receptor through the mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) pathway: implication in new-onset diabetes in renal transplantation

J Biol Chem. 2012 Jul 13;287(29):24795-806. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M112.344259. Epub 2012 May 29.


The amino acid leucine is a potent secretagogue, capable of inducing insulin secretion. It also plays an important role in the regulation of mTOR activity, therefore, providing impetus to investigate if a leucine-sensing mechanism in the mTOR pathway is involved in insulin secretion. We found that leucine-induced insulin secretion was inhibited by both the mTOR inhibitor rapamycin as well as the adrenergic α2 receptor agonist clonidine. We also demonstrated that leucine down-regulated the surface expression of adrenergic α2A receptor via activation of the mTOR pathway. The leucine stimulatory effect on insulin secretion was attenuated in diabetic Goto-Kakizaki rats that overexpress adrenergic α2A receptors, confirming the role of leucine in insulin secretion. Thus, our data demonstrate that leucine regulates insulin secretion by modulating adrenergic α2 receptors through the mTOR pathway. The role of the mTOR pathway in metabolic homeostasis led us to a second important finding in this study; retrospective analysis of clinical data showed that co-administration of rapamycin and clonidine was associated with an increased incidence of new-onset diabetes in renal transplantation patients over those receiving rapamycin alone. We believe that inhibition of mTOR by rapamycin along with activation of adrenergic α2 receptors by clonidine represents a double-hit to pancreatic islets that synergistically disturbs glucose homeostasis. This new insight may have important implications for the clinical management of renal transplant patients.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Glucose / drug effects
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Line
  • Diabetes Mellitus / etiology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus / prevention & control
  • Down-Regulation
  • Humans
  • Immunoprecipitation
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Insulin Secretion
  • Kidney Transplantation / adverse effects*
  • Leucine / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred WKY
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism*


  • Blood Glucose
  • Insulin
  • mTOR protein, rat
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Leucine