, Volume 49, Issue 12, pp 2920-2929

First online:

Exendin 4 controls insulin production in rat islet beta cells predominantly by potentiation of glucose-stimulated proinsulin biosynthesis at the translational level

  • C. AlarconAffiliated withDiabetes Center, Department of Medicine, Endocrine Division, University of Chicago
  • , B. WicksteedAffiliated withDiabetes Center, Department of Medicine, Endocrine Division, University of Chicago
  • , C. J. RhodesAffiliated withDiabetes Center, Department of Medicine, Endocrine Division, University of Chicago Email author 



Ideally, a therapeutic insulin secretagogue should coordinately increase insulin production and insulin secretion to maintain islet beta cell secretory capacity. We compared the incretin mimetic exendin 4 and the sulfonylurea glibenclamide (known as glyburide in the USA and Canada) for their effects in upholding a balance between (pro)insulin biosynthesis and insulin secretion in pancreatic islets.


Isolated rat islets were incubated for 1 or 16 h over a range of glucose concentrations (2.8–16.7 mmol/l) with or without exendin 4 (10 nmol/l) or glibenclamide (1 μmol/l). Islets were then analysed for preproinsulin mRNA expression by RNase protection and quantitative real-time RT-PCR assays. Proinsulin biosynthesis was analysed by metabolic pulse-radiolabelling, immunoprecipitation and PAGE. Insulin secretion and insulin content were analysed by radioimmunoassay.


Neither exendin 4 nor glibenclamide affected islet preproinsulin mRNA expression. However, exendin 4 significantly increased glucose-induced proinsulin biosynthesis at the translational level within 1 h, in marked contrast to glibenclamide, which inhibited proinsulin biosynthesis, especially at basal and intermediate glucose concentrations. Exendin 4 potentiated insulin secretion in a glucose-dependent manner, whereas glibenclamide stimulated insulin secretion independently of glucose. Exendin 4 better maintained rat islet insulin content compared with glibenclamide, which depleted intracellular stores of insulin in islet beta cells by 40% within 16 h.


Exendin 4 maintains insulin stores and beta cell secretory capacity primarily by translational control of proinsulin biosynthesis in parallel to insulin secretion. Glibenclamide does not regulate insulin production in coordination with stimulated insulin secretion, and consequently depletes islet insulin stores, compromising secretory capacity. Thus, at the level of the beta cell, incretin mimetics have an advantage over sulfonylureas for treatment of type 2 diabetes.


Exendin 4 Pancreatic islet Proinsulin biosynthesis Sulfonylureas Sulphonylureas Translational control