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Increased intracellular iron in mouse primary hepatocytes in vitro causes activation of the Akt pathway but decreases its response to insulin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Joe Varghese, Jithu James, Sophie Vaulont, Andrew Mckie, Molly Jacob

Original languageEnglish
Early online date31 May 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 May 2018


King's Authors


An iron-overloaded state has been reported to be associated with insulin resistance. On the other hand, conditions such as classical hemochromatosis (where iron overload occurs primarily in the liver) have been reported to be associated with increased insulin sensitivity. The reasons for these contradictory findings are unclear. In this context, the effects of increased intracellular iron per se on insulin signaling in hepatocytes are not known.

Mouse primary hepatocytes were loaded with iron in vitro by incubation with ferric ammonium citrate (FAC). Intracellular events related to insulin signaling, as well as changes in gene expression and hepatocyte glucose production (HGP), were studied in the presence and absence of insulin and/or forskolin (a glucagon mimetic).

In vitro iron-loading of hepatocytes resulted in phosphorylation-mediated activation of Akt and AMP-activated protein kinase. This was associated with decreased basal and forskolin-stimulated HGP. Iron attenuated forskolin-mediated induction of the key gluconeogenic enzyme, glucose-6-phosphatase. It also attenuated activation of the Akt pathway in response to insulin, which was associated with decreased protein levels of insulin receptor substrates 1 and 2, constituting insulin resistance.

Increased intracellular iron has dual effects on insulin sensitivity in hepatocytes. It increased basal activation of the Akt pathway, but decreased activation of this pathway in response to insulin. General significance These findings may help explain why both insulin resistance and increased sensitivity have been observed in iron-overloaded states. They are of relevance to a variety of disease conditions characterized by hepatic iron overload and increased risk of diabetes.

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