Pathways in Beta-Cell Stimulus-Secretion Coupling as Targets for Therapeutic Insulin Secretagogues

  1. Jean-Claude Henquin
  1. From the Unité d’Endocrinologie et Métabolisme, University of Louvain Faculty of Medicine, Brussels, Belgium
  1. Address correspondence and reprint requests to J.C. Henquin, Unité d’Endocrinologie et Métabolisme, UCL 55.30, avenue Hippocrate 55, B-1200 Brussels, Begium. E-mail: henquin{at}


Physiologically, insulin secretion is subject to a dual, hierarchal control by triggering and amplifying pathways. By closing ATP-sensitive K+ channels (KATP channels) in the plasma membrane, glucose and other metabolized nutrients depolarize β-cells, stimulate Ca2+ influx, and increase the cytosolic concentration of free Ca2+ ([Ca2+]i), which constitutes the indispensable triggering signal to induce exocytosis of insulin granules. The increase in β-cell metabolism also generates amplifying signals that augment the efficacy of Ca2+ on the exocytotic machinery. Stimulatory hormones and neurotransmitters modestly increase the triggering signal and strongly activate amplifying pathways biochemically distinct from that set into operation by nutrients. Many drugs can increase insulin secretion in vitro, but only few have a therapeutic potential. This review identifies six major pathways or sites of stimulus-secretion coupling that could be aimed by potential insulin-secreting drugs and describes several strategies to reach these targets. It also discusses whether these perspectives are realistic or theoretical only. These six possible β-cell targets are 1) stimulation of metabolism, 2) increase of [Ca2+]i by closure of K+ATP channels, 3) increase of [Ca2+]i by other means, 4) stimulation of amplifying pathways, 5) action on membrane receptors, and 6) action on nuclear receptors. The theoretical risk of inappropriate insulin secretion and, hence, of hypoglycemia linked to these different approaches is also envisaged.


  • This article is based on a presentation at a symposium. The symposium and the publication of this article were made possible by an unrestricted educational grant from Servier.

    • Accepted May 20, 2004.
    • Received April 8, 2004.
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