Autophagy Differentially Regulates Insulin Production and Insulin Sensitivity

Cell Rep. 2018 Jun 12;23(11):3286-3299. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2018.05.032.


Autophagy, a stress-induced lysosomal degradative pathway, has been assumed to exert similar metabolic effects in different organs. Here, we establish a model where autophagy plays different roles in insulin-producing β cells versus insulin-responsive cells, utilizing knockin (Becn1F121A) mice manifesting constitutively active autophagy. With a high-fat-diet challenge, the autophagy-hyperactive mice unexpectedly show impaired glucose tolerance, but improved insulin sensitivity, compared to mice with normal autophagy. Autophagy hyperactivation enhances insulin signaling, via suppressing ER stress in insulin-responsive cells, but decreases insulin secretion by selectively sequestrating and degrading insulin granule vesicles in β cells, a process we term "vesicophagy." The reduction in insulin storage, insulin secretion, and glucose tolerance is reversed by transient treatment of autophagy inhibitors. Thus, β cells and insulin-responsive tissues require different autophagy levels for optimal function. To improve insulin sensitivity without hampering secretion, acute or intermittent, rather than chronic, activation of autophagy should be considered in diabetic therapy development.

Keywords: Becn1; autophagosome; autophagy; glucose tolerance; insulin granule; insulin sensitivity; insulin-responsive tissue; type 2 diabetes; vesicophagy; β cell.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autophagosomes / metabolism
  • Autophagy* / drug effects
  • Beclin-1 / genetics
  • Beclin-1 / metabolism*
  • Benzamides / pharmacology
  • Diet, High-Fat
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress
  • Gene Knock-In Techniques
  • Glucose Tolerance Test
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / cytology
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Pyrimidines / pharmacology
  • Signal Transduction


  • Beclin-1
  • Becn1 protein, mouse
  • Benzamides
  • Insulin
  • Pyrimidines
  • SBI-0206965