European Journal of Endocrinology

 EJE PRIZE 2018: A gut feeling about glucagon
 

Hyperglucagonaemia (in the fasting as well as in the postprandial state) is considered a core pathophysiological component of diabetes and is found to contribute substantially to the hyperglycaemic state of diabetes. Hyperglucagonaemia is usually viewed upon as a consequence of pancreatic alpha cell insensitivity to the glucagon-suppressive effects of glucose and insulin. Since we observed that the well-known hyperglucagonaemic response to oral glucose in patients with type 2 diabetes is exchanged by normal suppression of plasma glucagon levels following isoglycaemic intravenous glucose administration in these patients, we have been focusing on the gut and gut-derived factors as potential mediators of diabetic hyperglucagonaemia. In a series of clinical experiments, we have elucidated the role of gut-derived factors in diabetic hyperglucagonaemia and shown that glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide promotes hyperglucagonaemia and that glucagon, hitherto considered a pancreas-specific hormone, may also be secreted from extrapancreatic tissues – most likely from proglucagon-producing enteroendocrine cells. Furthermore, our observation that fasting hyperglucagonaemia is unrelated to the diabetic state, but strongly correlates with obesity, liver fat content and circulating amino acids, has made us question the common ‘pancreacentric’ and ‘glucocentric’ understanding of hyperglucagonaemia and led to the hypothesis that steatosis-induced hepatic glucagon resistance (and reduced amino acid turnover) and compensatory glucagon secretion mediated by increased circulating amino acids constitute a complete endocrine feedback system: the liver–alpha cell axis. This article summarises the physiological regulation of glucagon secretion in humans and considers new findings suggesting that the liver and the gut play key roles in determining fasting and postabsorptive circulating glucagon levels.