The zinc content in the pancreatic beta cell is among the highest of the body. Zinc appears to be an important metal for insulin-secreting cells as insulin is stored inside secretory vesicles as a solid hexamer bound with two Zn2+ ions per hexamer. Zinc is also an important component of insulin secretion mechanisms and is likely to modulate the function of neighbouring cells via paracrine/autocrine interactions. Therefore beta cells undoubtedly need very efficient and specialized transporters to accumulate sufficient amounts of zinc in secretion vesicles. We report here the discovery and the characteristics of a new zinc transporter, ZnT-8, belonging to the CDF (Cation Diffusion Facilitator) family and expressed only in pancreatic beta cells. This transporter, localized in secretion vesicles membrane, facilitates the accumulation of zinc from the cytoplasm into intracellular insulin-containing vesicles and is a major component for providing zinc to insulin maturation and/or storage processes in insulin-secreting pancreatic beta cells. We discovered mammalian orthologs (rat, mouse, chimpanzee, and dog) and found these ZnT-8 proteins very similar (98% conserved amino acids) to human ZnT-8, indicating a high conservation during evolution.
Key wordsbeta cell insulin Langerhans islets pancreas zinc zinc transport zinc transporter
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