Of all available liver cells in culture, only primary cultured hepatocytes are known to respond to glucagon in vitro. In the present study we investigated whether glucagon could stimulate amino acid transport and tyrosine aminotransferase (TAT;EC 2.6.1.5) activity (two well-characterized glucagon effects in the liver) in Fao cells, a highly differentiated rat hepatoma cell line. We found that glucagon had no effect on transport of alpha-aminoisobutyric acid (AIB; a non-metabolizable alanine analogue) nor on TAT activity, even though both activities could be fully induced by insulin [2-fold and 3-fold effects for AIB transport and TAT activity, respectively, after 6h; EC50 (median effective concentration) = 0.3 nM], or by dexamethasone (5-8-fold effects after 20 h; EC50 = 2 nM). Analysis of [125I]iodoglucagon binding revealed that Fao cells bind less than 1% as much glucagon as do hepatocytes, whereas insulin binding in Fao cells was 50% higher than in hepatocytes. The addition of dibutyryl cyclic AMP, which fully mimics the glucagon stimulation of both AIB transport and TAT activity in hepatocytes, induced TAT activity in Fao cells (a 2-fold effect at 0.1 mM-dibutyryl cyclic AMP) but had no effect on AIB transport. Cholera toxin stimulated TAT activity to the same extent as did dibutyryl cyclic AMP. These results indicate that the lack of glucagon responsiveness in cultured hepatoma cells results from both a receptor defect and, for amino acid transport, an additional post-receptor defect. Moreover, the results show that amino acid transport and TAT activity, which appeared to be co-induced by insulin or by dexamethasone in these cells, respond differently to cyclic AMP. This suggests that different mechanisms are involved in the induction of these activities by glucagon in liver.

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