Mechanisms of Compensatory β-Cell Growth in Insulin-Resistant Rats

Roles of Akt Kinase

  1. Thomas L. Jetton,
  2. James Lausier,
  3. Kyla LaRock,
  4. Winifred E. Trotman,
  5. Brooke Larmie,
  6. Aida Habibovic,
  7. Mina Peshavaria and
  8. Jack L. Leahy
  1. Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont
  1. Address correspondence and reprint requests to T.L. Jetton, University of Vermont College of Medicine, Department of Medicine, Given C331, Burlington, VT 05405. E-mail: thomas.jetton{at}


The physiological mechanisms underlying the compensatory growth of β-cell mass in insulin-resistant states are poorly understood. Using the insulin-resistant Zucker fatty (fa/fa) (ZF) rat and the corresponding Zucker lean control (ZLC) rat, we investigated the factors contributing to the age-/obesity-related enhancement of β-cell mass. A 3.8-fold β-cell mass increase was observed in ZF rats as early as 5 weeks of age, an age that precedes severe insulin resistance by several weeks. Closer investigation showed that ZF rat pups were not born with heightened β-cell mass but developed a modest increase over ZLC rats by 20 days that preceded weight gain or hyperinsulinemia that first developed at 24 days of age. In these ZF pups, an augmented survival potential of β-cells of ZF pups was observed by enhanced activated (phospho-) Akt, phospho-BAD, and Bcl-2 immunoreactivity in the postweaning period. However, increased β-cell proliferation in the ZF rats was only detected at 31 days of age, a period preceding massive β-cell growth. During this phase, we also detected an increase in the numbers of small β-cell clusters among ducts and acini, increased duct pancreatic/duodenal homeobox-1 (PDX-1) immunoreactivity, and an increase in islet number in the ZF rats suggesting duct- and acini-mediated heightened β-cell neogenesis. Interestingly, in young ZF rats, specific cells associated with ducts, acini, and islets exhibited an increased frequency of PDX-1+/phospho-Akt+ staining, indicating a potential role for Akt in β-cell differentiation. Thus, several adaptive mechanisms account for the compensatory growth of β-cells in ZF rats, a combination of enhanced survival and neogenesis with a transient rise in proliferation before 5 weeks of age, with Akt serving as a potential mediator in these processes.


    • Accepted May 4, 2005.
    • Received October 15, 2004.
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