Glucagon and Amino Acids Are Linked in a Mutual Feedback Cycle: The Liver-{alpha}-Cell Axis

Glucagon is usually viewed as an important counterregulatory hormone in glucose metabolism, with actions opposing those of insulin. Evidence exists that shows glucagon is important for minute-to-minute regulation of postprandial hepatic glucose production, although conditions of glucagon excess or deficiency do not cause changes compatible with this view. In patients with glucagon-producing tumors (glucagonomas), the most conspicuous signs are skin lesions (necrolytic migratory erythema), while in subjects with inactivating mutations of the glucagon receptor, pancreatic swelling may be the first sign; neither condition is necessarily associated with disturbed glucose metabolism. In glucagonoma patients, amino acid turnover and ureagenesis are greatly accelerated, and low plasma amino acid levels are probably at least partly responsible for the necrolytic migratory erythema, which resolves after amino acid administration. In patients with receptor mutations (and in knockout mice), pancreatic swelling is due to α-cell hyperplasia with gross hypersecretion of glucagon, which according to recent groundbreaking research may result from elevated amino acid levels. Additionally, solid evidence indicates that ureagenesis, and thereby amino acid levels, is critically controlled by glucagon. Together, this constitutes a complete endocrine system; feedback regulation involving amino acids regulates α-cell function and secretion, while glucagon, in turn, regulates amino acid turnover.

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