Streptozotocin (STZ), an analogue of GlcNAc, inhibits purified rat spleen O-GlcNAc-selective N-acetyl-β-d-glucosaminidase (O-GlcNAcase), the enzyme that removes O-GlcNAc from protein. We have shown previously that STZ increases pancreatic islet O-linked protein glycosylation. In light of these data, we investigated the possibility further that STZ causes β-cell death by inhibiting O-GlcNAcase. In isolated islets, the time course and dose curve of STZ-induced O-glycosylation correlated with β-cell toxicity. STZ inhibition of rat islet O-GlcNAcase activity also paralleled that of its β-cell toxicity, with significant inhibition occurring at a concentration of 1mM. In contrast, STZ inhibition of rat brain O-GlcNAcase and β-TC3 insulinoma cell O-GlcNAcase was significantly right-shifted compared with islets, with STZ only significantly inhibiting activity at a concentration of 5mM, the same concentration required for β-TC3 cell toxicity. In comparison, N-methyl-N-nitrosourea, the nitric oxide-donating portion of STZ, did not cause increased islet O-glycosylation, β-cell toxicity or inhibition of β-cell O-GlcNAcase. Enhanced STZ sensitivity of islet O-GlcNAcase compared with O-GlcNAcase from other tissues or an insulinoma cell line suggests why actual islet β-cells are particularly sensitive to STZ. Confirming this idea, STZ-induced islet β-cell toxicity was completely blocked by GlcNAc, which also prevented STZ-induced O-GlcNAcase inhibition, but was not even partially blocked by glucose, glucosamine or GalNAc. Together, these data demonstrate that STZ's inhibition of β-cell O-GlcNAcase is the mechanism that accounts for its diabetogenic toxicity.

Abbreviations used: STZ, streptozotocin; MNU, N-methyl-N-nitrosourea; OGT, O-GlcNAc transferase; O-GlcNAcase, O-GlcNAc-selective N-acetyl-β-d-glucosaminidase; HBSS, Hanks balanced salt solution; DMEM, Dulbecco's modified Eagle's medium; H&E, haematoxylin and eosin.

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