Sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors (SGLT2i), or gliflozins, are anti-diabetic drugs that lower glycemia by promoting glucosuria, but they also stimulate endogenous glucose and ketone body production. The likely causes of these metabolic responses are increased blood glucagon levels, and decreased blood insulin levels, but the mechanisms involved are hotly debated. This study verified whether or not SGLT2i affect glucagon and insulin secretion by a direct action on islet cells in three species, using multiple approaches.
We tested the in vivo effects of two selective SGLT2i (dapagliflozin, empagliflozin) and a SGLT1/2i (sotagliflozin) on various biological parameters (glucosuria, glycemia, glucagonemia, insulinemia) in mice. mRNA expression of SGLT2 and other glucose transporters was assessed in rat, mouse, and human FACS-purified α- and β-cells, and by analysis of two human islet cell transcriptomic datasets. Immunodetection of SGLT2 in pancreatic tissues was performed with a validated antibody. The effects of dapagliflozin, empagliflozin, and sotagliflozin on glucagon and insulin secretion were assessed using isolated rat, mouse and human islets and the in situ perfused mouse pancreas. Finally, we tested the long-term effect of SGLT2i on glucagon gene expression.
SGLT2 inhibition in mice increased the plasma glucagon/insulin ratio in the fasted state, an effect correlated with a decline in glycemia. Gene expression analyses and immunodetections showed no SGLT2 mRNA or protein expression in rodent and human islet cells, but moderate SGLT1 mRNA expression in human α-cells. However, functional experiments on rat, mouse, and human (29 donors) islets and the in situ perfused mouse pancreas did not identify any direct effect of dapagliflozin, empagliflozin or sotagliflozin on glucagon and insulin secretion. SGLT2i did not affect glucagon gene expression in rat and human islets.
The data indicate that the SGLT2i-induced increase of the plasma glucagon/insulin ratio in vivo does not result from a direct action of the gliflozins on islet cells.