Hyperglucagonaemia in diabetes: altered amino acid metabolism triggers mTORC1 activation, which drives glucagon production

Yael Riahi, Aviram Kogot-Levin, Liat Kadosh, Bella Agranovich, Assaf Malka, Michael Assa, Ron Piran, Dana Avrahami, Benjamin Glaser, Eyal Gottlieb, Fields Jackson, Erol Cerasi, Ernesto Bernal-Mizrachi, Aharon Helman*, Gil Leibowitz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aim/hypothesis: Hyperglycaemia is associated with alpha cell dysfunction, leading to dysregulated glucagon secretion in type 1 and type 2 diabetes; however, the mechanisms involved are still elusive. The nutrient sensor mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) plays a major role in the maintenance of alpha cell mass and function. We studied the regulation of alpha cell mTORC1 by nutrients and its role in the development of hyperglucagonaemia in diabetes. Methods: Alpha cell mTORC1 activity was assessed by immunostaining for phosphorylation of its downstream target, the ribosomal protein S6, and glucagon, followed by confocal microscopy on pancreatic sections and flow cytometry on dispersed human and mouse islets and the alpha cell line, αTC1-6. Metabolomics and metabolic flux were studied by 13C glucose labelling in 2.8 or 16.7 mmol/l glucose followed by LC-MS analysis. To study the role of mTORC1 in mediating hyperglucagonaemia in diabetes, we generated an inducible alpha cell-specific Rptor knockout in the Akita mouse model of diabetes and tested the effects on glucose tolerance by IPGTT and on glucagon secretion. Results: mTORC1 activity was increased in alpha cells from diabetic Akita mice in parallel to the development of hyperglycaemia and hyperglucagonaemia (two- to eightfold increase). Acute exposure of mouse and human islets to amino acids stimulated alpha cell mTORC1 (3.5-fold increase), whereas high glucose concentrations inhibited mTORC1 (1.4-fold decrease). The mTORC1 response to glucose was abolished in human and mouse diabetic alpha cells following prolonged islet exposure to high glucose levels, resulting in sustained activation of mTORC1, along with increased glucagon secretion. Metabolomics and metabolic flux analysis showed that exposure to high glucose levels enhanced glycolysis, glucose oxidation and the synthesis of glucose-derived amino acids. In addition, chronic exposure to high glucose levels increased the expression of Slc7a2 and Slc38a4, which encode amino acid transporters, as well as the levels of branched-chain amino acids and methionine cycle metabolites (~1.3-fold increase for both). Finally, conditional Rptor knockout in alpha cells from adult diabetic mice inhibited mTORC1, thereby inhibiting glucagon secretion (~sixfold decrease) and improving diabetes, despite persistent insulin deficiency. Conclusions/interpretation: Alpha cell exposure to hyperglycaemia enhances amino acid synthesis and transport, resulting in sustained activation of mTORC1, thereby increasing glucagon secretion. mTORC1 therefore plays a major role in mediating alpha cell dysfunction in diabetes. Data availability: All sequencing data are available from the Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO) repository (accession no. GSE154126; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/geo/query/acc.cgi?acc=GSE154126 ) Graphical Abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.].

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1925-1942
Number of pages18
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.


  • Alpha cells
  • Diabetes
  • Glucagon
  • Islet biology
  • Metabolism
  • mTORC1


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