Pulsatile insulin secretion by pancreatic beta cells is necessary for tight glucose control in the body. Glycolytic oscillations have been proposed as the mechanism for generating the electrical oscillations underlying pulsatile insulin secretion. The glycolytic enzyme 6-phosphofructokinase-1 (PFK) synthesizes fructose-1,6-bisphosphate (FBP) from fructose-6-phosphate. It has been proposed that the slow electrical and Ca2+ oscillations (periods of 3–5 min) observed in islets result from allosteric feedback activation of PFKM by FBP. Pancreatic beta cells express three PFK isozymes: PFKL, PFKM, and PFKP. A prior study of mice that were engineered to lack PFKM using a gene-trap strategy to delete Pfkm produced a mosaic reduction in global Pfkm expression, but the islets isolated from the mice still exhibited slow Ca2+ oscillations. However, these islets still expressed residual PFKM protein. Thus, to more fully test the hypothesis that beta cell PFKM is responsible for slow islet oscillations, we made a beta-cell-specific knockout mouse that completely lacked PFKM. While PFKM deletion resulted in subtle metabolic changes in vivo, islets that were isolated from these mice continued to exhibit slow oscillations in electrical activity, beta cell Ca2+ concentrations, and glycolysis, as measured using PKAR, an FBP reporter/biosensor. Furthermore, simulations obtained with a mathematical model of beta cell activity shows that slow oscillations can persist despite PFKM loss provided that one of the other PFK isoforms, such as PFKP, is present, even if its level of expression is unchanged. Thus, while we believe that PFKM may be the main regulator of slow oscillations in wild-type islets, PFKP can provide functional redundancy. Our model also suggests that PFKM likely dominates, in vivo, because it outcompetes PFKP with its higher FBP affinity and lower ATP affinity. We thus propose that isoform redundancy may rescue key physiological processes of the beta cell in the absence of certain critical genes.
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