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Digestion of Dietary Carbohydrates
Dietary carbohydrate from which humans gain energy enter the body in complex forms, such as disaccharides and the polymers starch (amylose and amylopectin) and glycogen. The polymer cellulose is also consumed but not digested. The first step in the metabolism of digestible carbohydrate is the conversion of the higher polymers to simpler, soluble forms that can be transported across the intestinal wall and delivered to the tissues. The breakdown of polymeric sugars begins in the mouth. Saliva has a slightly acidic pH of 6.8 and contains lingual amylase that begins the digestion of carbohydrates. The action of lingual amylase is limited to the area of the mouth and the esophagus; it is virtually inactivated by the much stronger acid pH of the stomach. Once the food has arrived in the stomach, acid hydrolysis contributes to its degradation; specific gastric proteases and lipases aid this process for proteins and fats, respectively. The mixture of gastric secretions, saliva, and food, known collectively as chyme, moves to the small intestine.
The main polymeric-carbohydrate digesting enzyme of the small intestine is a-amylase. This enzyme is secreted by the pancreas and has the same activity as salivary amylase, producing disaccharides and trisaccharides. The latter are converted to monosaccharides by intestinal saccharidases, including maltases that hydrolyze di- and trisaccharides, and the more specific disaccharidases, sucrase, lactase, and trehalase. The net result is the almost complete conversion of digestible carbohydrate to its constituent monosaccharides.
The resultant glucose and other simple carbohydrates are transported across the intestinal wall to the hepatic portal vein and then to liver parenchymal cells and other tissues. There they are converted to fatty acids, amino acids, and glycogen, or else oxidized by the various catabolic pathways of cells.
Oxidation of glucose is known as glycolysis.Glucose is oxidized to either lactate or pyruvate. Under aerobic conditions, the dominant product in most tissues is pyruvate and the pathway is known as aerobic glycolysis. When oxygen is depleted, as for instance during prolonged vigorous exercise, the dominant glycolytic product in many tissues is lactate and the process is known as anaerobic glycolysis.
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The Energy Derived from Glucose Oxidation
Aerobic glycolysis of glucose to pyruvate, requires two equivalents of ATP to activate the process, with the subsequent production of four equivalents of ATP and two equivalents of NADH. Thus, conversion of one mole of glucose to two moles of pyruvate is accompanied by the net production of two moles each of ATP and NADH.

Glucose + 2 ADP + 2 NAD+ + 2 Pi -----> 2 Pyruvate + 2 ATP + 2 NADH + 2 H+

The NADH generated during glycolysis is used to fuel mitochondrial ATP synthesis via oxidative phosphorylation, producing either two or three equivalents of ATP depending upon whether the glycerol phosphate shuttle or the malate-aspartate shuttle is used to transport the electrons from cytoplasmic NADH into the mitochondria. The net yield from the oxidation of 1 mole of glucose to 2 moles of pyruvate is, therefore, either 6 or 8 moles of ATP. Complete oxidation of the 2 moles of pyruvate, through the TCA cycle, yeilds an additional 30 moles of ATP; the total yield, therefore being either 36 or 38 moles of ATP from the complete oxidation of 1 mole of glucose to CO2 and H2O.
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The Individual Reactions of Glycolysis
The pathway of glycolysis can be seen as consisting of 2 separate phases. The first is the chemical priming phase requiring energy in the form of ATP, and the second is considered the energy-yielding phase. In the first phase, 2 equivalents of ATP are used to convert glucose to fructose 1,6-bisphosphate (F1,6BP). In the second phase F1,6BP is degraded to pyruvate, with the production of 4 equivalents of ATP and 2 equivalents of NADH.

Pathway of glycolysis from glucose to pyruvate. Substrates and products are in blue, enzymes are in green. The two high energy intermediates whose oxidations are coupled to ATP synthesis are shown in red (1,3-bisphosphoglycerate and phosphoenolpyruvate).

The Hexokinase Reaction

The ATP-dependent phosphorylation of glucose to form glucose 6-phosphate (G6P)is the first reaction of glycolysis, and is catalyzed by tissue-specific isoenzymes known as hexokinases. The phosphorylation accomplishes two goals: First, the hexokinase reaction converts nonionic glucose into an anion that is trapped in the cell, since cells lack transport systems for phosphorylated sugars. Second, the otherwise biologically inert glucose becomes activated into a labile form capable of being further metabolized.
Four mammalian isozymes of hexokinase are known (Types I - IV), with the Type IV isozyme often referred to as glucokinase. Glucokinase is the form of the enzyme found in hepatocytes. The high Km of glucokinase for glucose means that this enzyme is saturated only at very high concentrations of substrate.

Comparison of the activities of hexokinase and glucokinase. The Km for hexokinase is significantly lower (0.1mM) than that of glucokinase (10mM). This difference ensures that non-hepatic tissues (which contain hexokinase) rapidly and efficiently trap blood glucose within their cells by converting it to glucose-6-phosphate. One major function of the liver is to deliver glucose to the blood and this in ensured by having a glucose phosphorylating enzyme (glucokinase) whose Km for glucose is sufficiently higher that the normal circulating concentration of glucose (5mM).
This feature of hepatic glucokinase allows the liver to buffer blood glucose. After meals, when postprandial blood glucose levels are high, liver glucokinase is significantly active, which causes the liver preferentially to trap and to store circulating glucose. When blood glucose falls to very low levels, tissues such as liver and kidney---which contain glucokinases but are not highly dependent on glucose---do not continue to use the meager glucose supplies that remain available. At the same time, tissues such as the brain, which are critically dependent on glucose, continue to scavenge blood glucose using their low Km hexokinases, and as a consequence their viability is protected. Under various conditions of glucose deficiency, such as long periods between meals, the liver is stimulated to supply the blood with glucose through the pathway of gluconeogenesis. The levels of glucose produced during gluconeogenesis are insufficient to activate glucokinase, allowing the glucose to pass out of hepatocytes and into the blood.
The regulation of hexokinase and glucokinase activities is also different. Hexokinases I, II, and III are allosterically inhibited by product (G6P) accumulation, whereas glucokinases are not. The latter further insures liver accumulation of glucose stores during times of glucose excess, while favoring peripheral glucose utilization when glucose is required to supply energy to peripheral tissues.

Phosphohexose Isomerase

The second reaction of glycolysis is an isomerization, in which G6P is converted to fructose 6-phosphate (F6P). The enzyme catalyzing this reaction is phosphohexose isomerase (also known as phosphoglucose isomerase). The reaction is freely reversible at normal cellular concentrations of the two hexose phosphates and thus catalyzes this interconversion during glycolytic carbon flow and during gluconeogenesis.

6-Phosphofructo-1-Kinase (Phosphofructokinase-1, PFK-1)

The next reaction of glycolysis involves the utilization of a second ATP to convert F6P to fructose 1,6-bisphosphate (F1,6BP). This reaction is catalyzed by 6-phosphofructo-1-kinase, better known as phosphofructokinase-1 or PFK-1. This reaction is not readily reversible because of its large positive free energy (DG0' = +5.4 kcal/mol) in the reverse direction. Nevertheless, fructose units readily flow in the reverse (gluconeogenic) direction because of the ubiquitous presence of the hydrolytic enzyme, fructose-1,6-bisphosphatase (F-1,6-BPase).
The presence of these two enzymes in the same cell compartment provides an example of a metabolic futile cycle, which if unregulated would rapidly deplete cell energy stores. However, the activity of these two enzymes is so highly regulated that PFK-1 is considered to be the rate-limiting enzyme of glycolysis and F-1,6-BPase is considered to be the rate-limiting enzyme in gluconeogenesis.


Aldolase catalyses the hydrolysis of F1,6BP into two 3-carbon products: dihydroxyacetone phosphate (DHAP) and glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate (G3P). The aldolase reaction proceeds readily in the reverse direction, being utilized for both glycolysis and gluconeogenesis.

Triose Phosphate Isomerase The two products of the aldolase reaction equilibrate readily in a reaction catalyzed by triose phosphate isomerase. Succeeding reactions of glycolysis utilize G3P as a substrate; thus, the aldolase reaction is pulled in the glycolytic direction by mass action principals.

Glyceraldehyde-3-Phosphate Dehydrogenase

The second phase of glucose catabolism features the energy-yielding glycolytic reactions that produce ATP and NADH. In the first of these reactions, glyceraldehyde-3-P dehydrogenase (G3PDH) catalyzes the NAD+-dependent oxidation of G3P to 1,3-bisphosphoglycerate (1,3BPG) and NADH. The G3PDH reaction is reversible, and the same enzyme catalyzes the reverse reaction during gluconeogenesis.

Phosphoglycerate Kinase

The high-energy phosphate of 1,3-BPG is used to form ATP and 3-phosphoglycerate (3PG) by the enzyme phosphoglycerate kinase. Note that this is the only reaction of glycolysis or gluconeogenesis that involves ATP and yet is reversible under normal cell conditions. Associated with the phosphoglycerate kinase pathway is an important reaction of erythrocytes, the formation of 2,3BPG by the enzyme bisphosphoglycerate mutase. 2,3BPG is an important regulator of hemoglobin's affinity for oxygen. Note that 2,3-bisphosphoglycerate phosphatase degrades 2,3BPG to 3-phosphoglycerate, a normal intermediate of glycolysis. The 2,3BPG shunt thus operates with the expenditure of 1 equivalent of ATP per triose passed through the shunt. The process is not reversible under physiological conditions.

Phosphoglycerate Mutase and Enolase

The remaining reactions of glycolysis are aimed at converting the relatively low energy phosphoacyl-ester of 3PG to a high-energy form and harvesting the phosphate as ATP. The 3PG is first converted to 2PG by phosphoglycerate mutase and the 2PG conversion to phosphoenoylpyruvate (PEP) is catalyzed by enolase

Pyruvate Kinase

The final reaction of aerobic glycolysis is catalyzed by the highly regulated enzyme pyruvate kinase (PK). In this strongly exergonic reaction, the high-energy phosphate of PEP is conserved as ATP. The loss of phosphate by PEP leads to the production of pyruvate in an unstable enol form, which spontaneously tautomerizes to the more stable, keto form of pyruvate. This reaction contributes a large proportion of the free energy of hydrolysis of PEP.
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Anaerobic Glycolysis
Under aerobic conditions, pyruvate in most cells is further metabolized via the TCA cycle. Under anaerobic conditions and in erythrocytes under aerobic conditions, pyruvate is converted to lactate by the enzyme lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), and the lactate is transported out of the cell into the circulation. The conversion of pyruvate to lactate, under anaerobic conditions, provides the cell with a mechanism for the oxidation of NADH (produced during the G3PDH reaction) to NAD+; which occurs during the LDH catalyzed reaction. This reduction is required since NAD+ is a necessary substrate for G3PDH, without which glycolysis will cease. Normally, during aerobic glycolysis the electrons of cytoplasmic NADH are transferred to mitochondrial carriers of the oxidative phosphorylation pathway generating a continuous pool of cytoplasmic NAD+.
Aerobic glycolysis generates substantially more ATP per mole of glucose oxidized than does anaerobic glycolysis. The utility of anaerobic glycolysis to a muscle cell when it needs large amounts of energy stems from the fact that the rate of ATP production from glycolysis is approximately 100X faster than from oxidative phosphorylation. During exertion muscle cells do not need to energize anabolic reaction pathways. The requirement is to generate the maximum amount of ATP, for muscle contraction, in the shortest time frame. This is why muscle cells derive almost all of the ATP consumed during exertion from anaerobic glycolysis.
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Regulation of Glycolysis
The reactions catalyzed by hexokinase, PFK-1 and PK all proceed with a relatively large free energy decrease. These nonequilibrium reactions of glycolysis would be ideal candidates for regulation of the flux through glycolysis. Indeed, in vitro studies have shown all three enzymes to be allosterically controlled.
Regulation of hexokinase, however, is not the major control point in glycolysis. This is due to the fact that large amounts of G6P are derived from the breakdown of glycogen (the predominant mechanism of carbohydrate entry into glycolysis in skeletal muscle) and, therefore, the hexokinase reaction is not necessary. Regulation of PK is important for reversing glycolysis when ATP is high in order to activate gluconeogenesis. As such this enzyme catalyzed reaction is not a major control point in glycolysis. The rate limiting step in glycolysis is the reaction catalyzed by PFK-1.
PFK-1 is a tetrameric enzyme that exist in two conformational states termed R and T that are in equilibrium. ATP is both a substrate and an allosteric inhibitor of PFK-1. Each subunit has two ATP binding sites, a substrate site and an inhibitor site. The substrate site binds ATP equally well when the tetramer is in either conformation. The inhibitor site binds ATP essentially only when the enzyme is in the T state. F6P is the other substrate for PFK-1 and it also binds preferentially to the R state enzyme. At high concentrations of ATP, the inhibitor site becomes occupied and shifting the equilibrium of PFK-1 comformation to that of the T state decreasing PFK-1's ability to bind F6P. The inhibition of PFK-1 by ATP is overcome by AMP which binds to the R state of the enzyme and, therefore, stabilizes the conformation of the enzyme capable of binding F6P. The most important allosteric regulator of both glycolysis and gluconeogenesis is fructose 2,6-bisphosphate, F2,6BP, which is not an intermediate in glycolysis or in gluconeogenesis.

Regulation of glycolysis and gluconeogenesis by fructose 2,6-bisphosphate (F2,6BP). The major sites for regulation of glycolysis and gluconeogenesis are the phosphofructokinase-1 (PFK-1) and fructose-1,6-bisphosphatase (F-1,6-BPase) catalyzed reactions. PFK-2 is the kinase activity and F-2,6-BPase is the phosphatase activity of the bi-functional regulatory enzyme, phosphofructokinase-2/fructose-2,6-bisphosphatase. PKA is cAMP-dependent protein kinase which phosphorylates PFK-2/F-2,6-BPase turning on the phosphatase activity. (+ve) and (-ve) refer to positive and negative activities, respectively.
The synthesis of F2,6BP is catalyzed by the bifunctional enzyme phosphofructokinase-2/fructose-2,6-bisphosphatase (PFK-2/F-2,6-BPase). In the nonphosphorylated form the enzyme is known as PFK-2 and serves to catalyze the synthesis of F2,6BP by phosphorylating fructose 6-phosphate. The result is that the activity of PFK-1 is greatly stimulated and the activity of F-1,6-BPase is greatly inhibited.
Under conditions where PFK-2 is active, fructose flow through the PFK-1/F-1,6-BPase reactions takes place in the glycolytic direction, with a net production of F1,6BP. When the bifunctional enzyme is phosphorylated it no longer exhibits kinase activity, but a new active site hydrolyzes F2,6BP to F6P and inorganic phosphate. The metabolic result of the phosphorylation of the bifunctional enzyme is that allosteric stimulation of PFK-1 ceases, allosteric inhibition of F-1,6-BPase is eliminated, and net flow of fructose through these two enzymes is gluconeogenic, producing F6P and eventually glucose.
The interconversion of the bifunctional enzyme is catalyzed by cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA), which in turn is regulated by circulating peptide hormones. When blood glucose levels drop, pancreatic insulin production falls, glucagon secretion is stimulated, and circulating glucagon is highly increased. Hormones such as glucagon bind to plasma membrane receptors on liver cells, activating membrane-localized adenylate cyclase leading to an increase in the conversion of ATP to cAMP. cAMP binds to the regulatory subunits of PKA, leading to release and activation of the catalytic subunits. PKA phosphorylates numerous enzymes, including the bifunctional PFK-2/F-2,6-BPase. Under these conditions the liver stops consuming glucose and becomes metabolically gluconeogenic, producing glucose to reestablish normoglycemia.
Regulation of glycolysis also occurs at the step catalyzed by pyruvate kinase, (PK). The liver enzyme has been most studied in vitro. This enzyme is inhibited by ATP and acetyl-CoA and is activated by F1,6BP. The inhibition of PK by ATP is similar to the effect of ATP on PFK-1. The binding of ATP to the inhibitor site reduces its affinity for PEP. The liver enzyme is also controlled at the level of synthesis. Increased carbohydrate ingestion induces the synthesis of PK resulting in elevated cellular levels of the enzyme.
A number of PK isozymes have been described. The liver isozyme (L-type), characteristic of a gluconeogenic tissue, is regulated via phosphorylation by PKA, whereas the M-type isozyme found in brain, muscle, and other glucose requiring tissue is unaffected by PKA. As a consequence of these differences, blood glucose levels and associated hormones can regulate the balance of liver gluconeogenesis and glycolysis while muscle metabolism remains unaffected.
In erythrocytes, the fetal PK isozyme has much greater activity than the adult isozyme; as a result, fetal erythrocytes have comparatively low concentrations of glycolytic intermediates. Because of the low steady-state concentration of fetal 1,3BPG, the 2,3BPG shunt is greatly reduced in fetal cells and little 2,3BPG is formed. Since 2,3BPG is a negative effector of hemoglobin affinity for oxygen, fetal erythrocytes have a higher oxygen affinity than maternal erythrocytes. Therefore, transfer of oxygen from maternal hemoglobin to fetal hemoglobin is favored, assuring the fetal oxygen supply. In the newborn, an erythrocyte isozyme of the M-type with comparatively low PK activity displaces the fetal type, resulting in an accumulation of glycolytic intermediates. The increased 1,3BPG levels activate the 2,3BPG shunt, producing 2,3BPG needed to regulate oxygen binding to hemoglobin.
Genetic diseases of adult erythrocyte PK are known in which the kinase is virtually inactive. The erythrocytes of affected individuals have a greatly reduced capacity to make ATP and thus do not have sufficient ATP to perform activities such as ion pumping and maintaining osmotic balance. These erythrocytes have a short half-life, lyse readily, and are responsible for some cases of hereditary hemolytic anemia.
The liver PK isozyme is regulated by phosphorylation, allosteric effectors, and modulation of gene expression. The major allosteric effectors are F1,6BP, which stimulates PK activity by decreasing its Km(app) for PEP, and for the negative effector, ATP. Expression of the liver PK gene is strongly influenced by the quantity of carbohydrate in the diet, with high-carbohydrate diets inducing up to 10-fold increases in PK concentration as compared to low carbohydrate diets. Liver PK is phosphorylated and inhibited by PKA, and thus it is under hormonal control similar to that described earlier for PFK-2.
Muscle PK (M-type) is not regulated by the same mechanisms as the liver enzyme. Extracellular conditions that lead to the phosphorylation and inhibition of liver PK, such as low blood glucose and high levels of circulating glucagon, do not inhibit the muscle enzyme. The result of this differential regulation is that hormones such as glucagon and epinephrine favor liver gluconeogenesis by inhibiting liver glycolysis, while at the same time, muscle glycolysis can proceed in accord with needs directed by intracellular conditions.
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Metabolic Fates of Pyruvate
Pyruvate is the branch point molecule of glycolysis. The ultimate fate of pyruvate depends on the oxidation state of the cell. In the reaction catalyzed by G3PDH a molecule of NAD+ is reduced to NADH. In order to maintain the re-dox state of the cell, this NADH must be re-oxidized to NAD+. During aerobic glycolysis this occurs in the mitochondrial electron transport chain generating ATP. Thus, during aerobic glycolysis ATP is generated from oxidation of glucose directly at the PGK and PK reactions as well as indirectly by re-oxidation of NADH in the oxidative phosphorylation pathway. Additional NADH molecules are generated during the complete aerobic oxidation of pyruvate in the TCA cycle. Pyruvate enters the TCA cycle in the form of acetyl-CoA which is the product of the pyruvate dehydrogenase reaction. The fate of pyruvate during anaerobic glycolysis is reduction to lactate.
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Lactate Metabolism
During anaerobic glycolysis, that period of time when glycolysis is proceeding at a high rate (or in anaerobic organisms), the oxidation of NADH occurs through the reduction of an organic substrate. Erythrocytes and skeletal muscle (under conditions of exertion) derive all of their ATP needs through anaerobic glycolysis. The large quantity of NADH produced is oxidized by reducing pyruvate to lactate. This reaction is carried out by lactate dehydrogenase, (LDH). The lactate produced during anaerobic glycolysis diffuses from the tissues and is transproted to highly aerobic tissues such as cardiac muscle and liver. The lactate is then oxidized to pyruvate in these cells by LDH and the pyruvate is further oxidized in the TCA cycle. If the energy level in these cells is high the carbons of pyruvate will be diverted back to glucose via the gluconeogenesis pathway.
Mammalian cells contain two distinct types of LDH subunits, termed M and H. Combinations of these different subunits generates LDH isozymes with different characteristics. The H type subunit predominates in aerobic tissues such as heart muscle (as the H4 tetramer) while the M subunit predominates in anaerobic tissues such as skeletal muscle as the M4 tetramer). H4 LDH has a low Km for pyruvate and also is inhibited by high levels of pyruvate. The M4 LDH enzyme has a high Km for pyruvate and is not inhibited by pyruvate. This suggsts that the H-type LDH is utilized for oxidizing lactate to pyruvate and the M-type the reverse.
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Ethanol Metabolism
Animal cells (primarily hepatocytes) contain the cytosolic enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) which oxidizes ethanol to acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde then enters the mitochondria where it is oxidized to acetate by acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (AcDH).

Acetaldehyde forms adducts with proteins, nucleic acids and other compounds, the results of which are the toxic side effects (the hangover) that are associated with alcohol consumption. The ADH and AcDH catalyzed reactions also leads to the reduction of NAD+ to NADH. The metabolic effects of ethanol intoxication stem from the actions of ADH and AcDH and the resultant cellular imbalance in the NADH/NAD+. The NADH produced in the cytosol by ADH must be reduced back to NAD+ via either the malate-aspartate shuttle or the glycerol-phosphate shuttle. Thus, the ability of an individual to metabolize ethanol is dependent upon the capacity of hepatocytes to carry out eother of these 2 shuttles, which in turn is affected by the rate of the TCA cycle in the mitochondria whose rate of function is being impacted by the NADH produced by the AcDH reaction. The reduction in NAD+ impairs the flux of glucose through glycolysis at the glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase reaction, thereby limiting energy production. Additionally, there is an increased rate of hepatic lactate production due to the effect of increased NADH on direction of the hepatic lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) reaction. This reverseral of the LDH reaction in hepatocytes diverts pyruvate from gluconeogenesis leading to a reduction in the capacity of the liver to deliver glucose to the blood.
In addition to the negative effects of the altered NADH/NAD+ ratio on hepatic gluconeogenesis, fatty acid oxidation is also reduced as this process requires NAD+ as a cofactor. In fact the opposite is true, fatty acid synthesis is increased and there is an increase in triacylglyceride production by the liver. In the mitocondria, the production of acetate from acetaldehyde leads to increased levels of acetyl-CoA. Since the increased generation of NADH also reduces the activity of the TCA cycle, the acetyl-CoA is diverted to fatty acid synthesis. The reduction in cytosolic NAD+ leads to reduced activity of glycerol-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (in the glcerol 3-phosphate to DHAP direction) resulting in increased levels of glycerol 3-phosphate which is the backbone for the synthesis of the triacylglycerides. Both of these two events lead to fatty acid deposition in the liver leading to fatty liver syndrome.
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Regulation of Blood Glucose Levels
If for no other reason, it is because of the demands of the brain for oxidizable glucose that the human body exquisitely regulates the level of glucose circulating in the blood. This level is maintained in the range of 5mM.
Nearly all carbohydrates ingested in the diet are converted to glucose following transport to the liver. Catabolism of dietary or cellular proteins generates carbon atoms that can be utilized for glucose synthesis via gluconeogenesis. Additionally, other tissues besides the liver that incompletely oxidize glucose (predominantly skeletal muscle and erythrocytes) provide lactate that can be converted to glucose via gluconeogenesis.
Maintenance of blood glucose homeostasis is of paramount importance to the survival of the human organism. The predominant tissue responding to signals that indicate reduced or elevated blood glucose levels is the liver. Indeed, one of the most important functions of the liver is to produce glucose for the circulation. Both elevated and reduced levels of blood glucose trigger hormonal responses to initiate pathways designed to restore glucose homeostasis. Low blood glucose triggers release of glucagon from pancreatic a-cells. High blood glucose triggers release of insulin from pancreatic b-cells. Additional signals, ACTH and growth hormone, released from the pituitary act to increase blood glucose by inhibiting uptake by extrahepatic tissues. Glucocorticoids also act to increase blood glucose levels by inhibiting glucose uptake. Cortisol, the major glucocorticoid released from the adrenal cortex, is secreted in response to the increase in circulating ACTH. The adrenal medullary hormone, epinephrine, stimulates production of glucose by activating glycogenolysis in response to stressful stimuli.
Glucagon binding to its' receptors on the surface of liver cells triggers an increase in cAMP production leading to an increased rate of glycogenolysis by activating glycogen phosphorylase via the PKA-mediated cascade. This is the same response hepatocytes have to epinephrine release. The resultant increased levels of G6P in hepatocytes is hydrolyzed to free glucose, by glucose-6-phosphatase, which then diffuses to the blood. The glucose enters extrahepatic cells where it is re-phosphorylated by hexokinase. Since muscle and brain cells lack glucose-6-phosphatase, the glucose-6-phosphate product of hexokinase is retained and oxidized by these tissues.
In opposition to the cellular responses to glucagon (and epinephrine on hepatocytes), insulin stimulates extrahepatic uptake of glucose from the blood and inhibits glycogenolysis in extrahepatic cells and conversely stimulates glycogen synthesis. As the glucose enters hepatocytes it binds to and inhibits glycogen phosphorylase activity. The binding of free glucose stimulates the de-phosphorylation of phosphorylase thereby, inactivating it. Why is it that the glucose that enters hepatocytes is not immediately phosphorylated and oxidized? Liver cells contain an isoform of hexokinase called glucokinase. Glucokinase has a much lower affinity for glucose than does hexokinase. Therefore, it is not fully active at the physiological ranges of blood glucose. Additionally, glucokinase is not inhibited by its product G6P, whereas, hexokinase is inhibited by G6P.
One major response of non-hepatic tissues to insulin is the recruitment, to the cell surface, of glucose transporter complexes. Glucose transporters comprise a family of five members, GLUT-1 to GLUT-5. GLUT-1 is ubiquitously distributed in various tissues. GLUT-2 is found primarily in intestine, kidney and liver. GLUT-3 is also found in the intestine and GLUT-5 in the brain and testis. Insulin-sensitive tissues such as skeletal muscle and adipose tissue contain GLUT-4. When the concentration of blood glucose increases in response to food intake, pancreatic GLUT-2 molecules mediate an increase in glucose uptake which leads to increased insulin secretion.
Hepatocytes, unlike most other cells, are freely permeable to glucose and are, therefore, essentially unaffected by the action of insulin at the level of increased glucose uptake. When blood glucose levels are low the liver does not compete with other tissues for glucose since the extrahepatic uptake of glucose is stimulated in response to insulin. Conversely, when blood glucose levels are high extrahepatic needs are satisfied and the liver takes up glucose for conversion into glycogen for future needs. Under conditions of high blood glucose, liver glucose levels will be high and the activity of glucokinase will be elevated. The G6P produced by glucokinase is rapidly converted to G1P by phosphoglucomutase, where it can then be incorporated into glycogen.
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This article has been modified by Dr. M. Javed Abbas.
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20:38 21/12/2002