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Effective glucose metabolism maintains low intracellular glucose in airway epithelial cells after exposure to hyperglycemia

Lookup NU author(s): Dr James Garnett


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The airway epithelium maintains differential glucose concentrations between the airway surface liquid (ASL, ~0.4 mM) and the blood/interstitium (5-6 mM), which is important for defense against infection. Glucose primarily moves from the blood to the ASL via paracellular movement, down its concentration gradient, across the tight junctions. However, there is evidence that glucose can move transcellularly across epithelial cells. Using a Förster resonance energy transfer sensor for glucose, we investigated intracellular glucose concentrations in airway epithelial cells and the role of hexokinases in regulating intracellular glucose concentrations in normoglycemic and hyperglycemic conditions. Our findings indicated that in airway epithelial cells (H441 or primary human bronchial epithelial cells) exposed to 5 mM glucose (normoglycemia), intracellular glucose concentration is in the micromolar range. Inhibition of facilitative glucose transporters (GLUTs) with cytochalasin B reduced intracellular glucose concentration. When cells were exposed to 15 mM glucose (hyperglycemia), intracellular glucose concentration was reduced. Airway cells expressed hexokinases I, II, and III. Inhibition with 3-bromopyruvate decreased hexokinase activity by 25% and elevated intracellular glucose concentration, but levels remained in the micromolar range. Exposure to hyperglycemia increased glycolysis, glycogen, and sorbitol. Thus, glucose enters the airway cell via GLUTs and is then rapidly processed by hexokinase-dependent and hexokinase-independent metabolic pathways to maintain low intracellular glucose concentrations. We propose that this prevents transcellular transport and aids the removal of glucose from the ASL and that the main route of entry for glucose into the ASL is via the paracellular pathway.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Bearham J, Garnett JP, Schroeder V, Biggart MGS, Baines DL

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: American Journal of Physiology: Cell Physiology

Year: 2019

Volume: 317

Issue: 5

Pages: C983-C992

Print publication date: 01/11/2019

Online publication date: 05/11/2019

Acceptance date: 13/08/2019

ISSN (print): 0363-6143

ISSN (electronic): 1522-1563

Publisher: American Physiological Society


DOI: 10.1152/ajpcell.00193.2019

PubMed id: 31433692


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