The p21-activated kinase (PAK1) is involved in diet-induced beta cell mass expansion and survival in mice and human islets

Diabetologia. 2016 Oct;59(10):2145-55. doi: 10.1007/s00125-016-4042-0. Epub 2016 Jul 9.


Aims/hypothesis: Human islets from type 2 diabetic donors are reportedly 80% deficient in the p21 (Cdc42/Rac)-activated kinase, PAK1. PAK1 is implicated in beta cell function and maintenance of beta cell mass. We questioned the mechanism(s) by which PAK1 deficiency potentially contributes to increased susceptibility to type 2 diabetes.

Methods: Non-diabetic human islets and INS 832/13 beta cells cultured under diabetogenic conditions (i.e. with specific cytokines or under glucolipotoxic [GLT] conditions) were evaluated for changes to PAK1 signalling. Combined effects of PAK1 deficiency with GLT stress were assessed using classic knockout (Pak1 (-/-) ) mice fed a 45% energy from fat/palmitate-based, 'western' diet (WD). INS 832/13 cells overexpressing or depleted of PAK1 were also assessed for apoptosis and signalling changes.

Results: Exposure of non-diabetic human islets to diabetic stressors attenuated PAK1 protein levels, concurrent with increased caspase 3 cleavage. WD-fed Pak1 knockout mice exhibited fasting hyperglycaemia and severe glucose intolerance. These mice also failed to mount an insulin secretory response following acute glucose challenge, coinciding with a 43% loss of beta cell mass when compared with WD-fed wild-type mice. Pak1 knockout mice had fewer total beta cells per islet, coincident with decreased beta cell proliferation. In INS 832/13 beta cells, PAK1 deficiency combined with GLT exposure heightened beta cell death relative to either condition alone; PAK1 deficiency resulted in decreased extracellular signal-related kinase (ERK) and B cell lymphoma 2 (Bcl2) phosphorylation levels. Conversely, PAK1 overexpression prevented GLT-induced cell death.

Conclusions/interpretation: These findings suggest that PAK1 deficiency may underlie an increased diabetic susceptibility. Discovery of ways to remediate glycaemic dysregulation via altering PAK1 or its downstream effectors offers promising opportunities for disease intervention.

Keywords: Beta cell mass; Diet-induced obesity; Insulin secretion; PAK1; Prediabetes; Type 2 diabetes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Cell Death / genetics
  • Cell Death / physiology
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Proliferation / genetics
  • Cell Proliferation / physiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / enzymology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / genetics
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism*
  • Glucose Intolerance / genetics
  • Glucose Intolerance / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hyperglycemia / genetics
  • Hyperglycemia / metabolism
  • Immunoblotting
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / pathology
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Phosphorylation / genetics
  • Phosphorylation / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • p21-Activated Kinases / genetics
  • p21-Activated Kinases / metabolism*


  • Blood Glucose
  • p21-Activated Kinases