Capillary Endothelial Insulin Transport: The Rate-limiting Step for Insulin-stimulated Glucose Uptake

Endocrinology. 2022 Feb 1;163(2):bqab252. doi: 10.1210/endocr/bqab252.


The rate-limiting step for skeletal muscle glucose uptake is transport from microcirculation to muscle interstitium. Capillary endothelium poses a barrier that delays the onset of muscle insulin action. Defining physiological barriers that control insulin access to interstitial space is difficult because of technical challenges that confront study of microscopic events in an integrated physiological system. Two physiological variables determine muscle insulin access. These are the number of perfused capillaries and the permeability of capillary walls to insulin. Disease states associated with capillary rarefaction are closely linked to insulin resistance. Insulin permeability through highly resistant capillary walls of muscle poses a significant barrier to insulin access. Insulin may traverse the endothelium through narrow intercellular junctions or vesicular trafficking across the endothelial cell. Insulin is large compared with intercellular junctions, making this an unlikely route. Transport by endothelial vesicular trafficking is likely the primary route of transit. Studies in vivo show movement of insulin is not insulin receptor dependent. This aligns with single-cell transcriptomics that show the insulin receptor is not expressed in muscle capillaries. Work in cultured endothelial cell lines suggest that insulin receptor activation is necessary for endothelial insulin transit. Controversies remain in the understanding of transendothelial insulin transit to muscle. These controversies closely align with experimental approaches. Control of circulating insulin accessibility to skeletal muscle is an area that remains ripe for discovery. Factors that impede insulin access to muscle may contribute to disease and factors that accelerate access may be of therapeutic value for insulin resistance.

Keywords: capillary; endothelial cell; insulin; interstitium; skeletal muscle; transport.