We have shown that the glucagon irresponsiveness to hypoglycemia in diabetic rats is markedly improved by correction of hyperglycemia independent of insulin. In contrast, normalization of glycemia by insulin did not improve this response. To find out whether these glucagon responses reflect changes in islet glucagon, we directly quantified glucagon area and content in each pancreatic islet by using fluorescent immunostaining and computerized image analysis with confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM). The pancreases were analyzed in four groups of rats. 1. Normal controls (NC, n = 4), streptozotocin (65 mg/kg) diabetic rats. 2. Diabetic untreated (DU, n = 4). 3. Diabetic Phlorizin-treated, (0.4 g/kg), twice daily for 4 d (DP, n = 4). 4. Diabetic insulin-treated, using sustained release (2-3 U/d) insulin implant for 5 d (DI, n = 4). Basal plasma glucose was 7.4 +/- 0.3 mM in NC, increased to 14.5 +/- 2.2 mM in DU, which was normalized in DP (5.5 +/- 0.5) and DI (6.7 +/- 0.8). Acute hypoglycemia (H) was induced by i.v. insulin injection. The rats were sacrificed 2 h after insulin injection and the pancreas was removed. By imaging with CLSM, we quantified: 1. Percent of glucagon containing A-cell area/islet area, 2. Fluorescence intensity per islet area, which indicated glucagon content in the islet. 3. Fluorescence intensity per glucagon area indicating glucagon concentration in A-cells. In NC, glucagon containing A cell area was 21 +/- 2% of the islet area, and glucagon intensity and concentration was 11 +/- 1 U and 36 +/- 3.0 U, respectively, in basal (O) state and did not change in (H). In DU, glucagon area increased 183% (O) and 166% (H), and islet glucagon intensity increased by 235% (O) (p < 0.05), but decreased to 135% in H. Glucagon area in DP and DI did not differ significantly from DU. However, hypoglycemia in DP increased glucagon intensity in islet further to 306% of normal control (p < 0.05), suggesting marked increase in glucagon content indicating increased synthesis. In contrast, DI compared to DP showed a decrease in glucagon intensity in islet (46 +/- 3, DP to 22 +/- 2 DI; p < 0.05) in (H) state. Glucagon concentration followed the same pattern as its intensity.
Conclusion: 1. Increase in islet glucagon content in diabetic rats was associated with increase in glucagon containing A-cell area per islet. 2. Phlorizin-induced insulin independent correction of hyperglycemia increased glucagon content per islet in hypoglycemic state. This, in part, probably contributed to improved glucagon response to hypoglycemia observed earlier 3. Normalization of glycemia with insulin reduced glucagon content of each islet during hypoglycemia. This may explain, in part, unresponsiveness of glucagon to hypoglycemia often observed in insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) with intensive insulin therapy.