Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL Suppress Glucose Signaling in Pancreatic β-Cells

  1. James D. Johnson1,2
  1. 1Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  2. 2Department of Surgery, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  3. 3Child & Family Research Institute, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  4. 4Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada the
  5. 5University of British Columbia James Hogg Research Centre, St. Paul's Hospital, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  1. Corresponding authors: James D. Johnson, jimjohn{at}, and Dan S. Luciani, dluciani{at}


B-cell lymphoma 2 (Bcl-2) family proteins are established regulators of cell survival, but their involvement in the normal function of primary cells has only recently begun to receive attention. In this study, we demonstrate that chemical and genetic loss-of-function of antiapoptotic Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL significantly augments glucose-dependent metabolic and Ca2+ signals in primary pancreatic β-cells. Antagonism of Bcl-2/Bcl-xL by two distinct small-molecule compounds rapidly hyperpolarized β-cell mitochondria, increased cytosolic Ca2+, and stimulated insulin release via the ATP-dependent pathway in β-cell under substimulatory glucose conditions. Experiments with single and double Bax–Bak knockout β-cells established that this occurred independently of these proapoptotic binding partners. Pancreatic β-cells from Bcl-2−/− mice responded to glucose with significantly increased NAD(P)H levels and cytosolic Ca2+ signals, as well as significantly augmented insulin secretion. Inducible deletion of Bcl-xL in adult mouse β-cells also increased glucose-stimulated NAD(P)H and Ca2+ responses and resulted in an improvement of in vivo glucose tolerance in the conditional Bcl-xL knockout animals. Our work suggests that prosurvival Bcl proteins normally dampen the β-cell response to glucose and thus reveals these core apoptosis proteins as integrators of cell death and physiology in pancreatic β-cells.

  • Received October 16, 2011.
  • Accepted June 16, 2012.

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