In situ hybridization of proinsulin and proglucagon mRNA was performed in rat pancreas to assess prohormone gene expression during various glucopenic conditions. During a 4-d fast mean blood glucose declined by 48 mg/dl; proinsulin mRNA signal density remained normal while proglucagon mRNA signal density more than doubled. At the end of a continuous 12-d insulin infusion blood glucose averaged 53 +/- 12 mg/dl; proinsulin mRNA signal density declined to 30% of controls while proglucagon mRNA signal density more than doubled. In insulinoma-bearing NEDH rats blood glucose averaged 34 +/- 3.5 mg/dl; the proinsulin mRNA signal was virtually undetectable and proglucagon mRNA signal density was more than twice the controls. There was no detectable change in either beta-cell area or islet number in rats subjected to fasting or insulin infusion, but in insulinoma-bearing rats beta cell area was markedly reduced. Thus compensation during 4 d of starvation involves an increase in glucagon gene expression without change in insulin gene expression or beta cell mass. In moderate insulin-induced hypoglycemia glucagon gene expression is increased and insulin gene expression decreased. In more profound insulinoma-induced hypoglycemia, in addition to the foregoing changes in hormone gene expression, there is a profound reduction in the number of insulin-expressing cells.
L Chen, I Komiya, L Inman, J O'Neil, M Appel, T Alam, R H Unger