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Hepatic GK (glucokinase) plays a key role in maintaining glucose homoeostasis. Many stimuli regulate GK activity by controlling its gene transcription. We hypothesized that endogenous lipophilic molecules modulate hepatic Gck expression. Lipophilic molecules were extracted from rat livers, saponified and re-constituted as an LE (lipophilic extract). LE synergized with insulin to induce primary hepatocyte, but not beta-cell, Gck expression in an SREBP-1c (sterol-regulatory-element-binding protein-1c)-independent manner. The dramatic induction of Gck mRNA resulted in a significant increase in GK activity. Subsequently, the active molecules were identified as retinol and retinal by MS after the purification of the active LE fractions. Retinoids synergized with insulin to induce Gck expression by the activation of both RAR [RA (retinoic acid) receptor] and RXR (retinoid X receptor). Inhibition of RAR activation completely abolished the effect of retinal. The hepatic GK specific activity and Gck mRNA levels of Zucker lean rats fed with a VAD [VA (vitamin A)-deficient] diet were significantly lower than those of rats fed with VAS (VA-sufficient) diet. Additionally, the hepatic Gck mRNA expression of Sprague-Dawley rats fed with a VAD diet was lower than that of rats fed with VA-marginal, -adequate or -supplemented diets. The reduced expression of Gck mRNA was increased after an intraperitoneal dose of RA in VAD rats. Furthermore, an intravenous injection of RA rapidly raised hepatic Gck expression in rats fed with a VAS control diet. Understanding the underlying mechanism that mediates the synergy may be helpful for developing a treatment strategy for patients with diabetes.

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