Research Article

Lipid transport by TMEM24 at ER–plasma membrane contacts regulates pulsatile insulin secretion

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Science  17 Feb 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6326, eaah6171
DOI: 10.1126/science.aah6171

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Understanding insulin release

Insulin release takes place in two phases: a first rapid burst followed by a series of small exocytic bursts that coincide with pulsatile spikes in cytosolic Ca2+ levels. The second phase is impaired in patients with type II diabetes, underscoring the importance of understanding its molecular basis. Lees et al. report a mechanism through which TMEM24, a lipid transport protein that concentrates at endoplasmic reticulum–plasma membrane contact sites, regulates the pulsatility of cytosolic Ca2+ and phosphoinositide signaling. This process in turn regulates pulsatile insulin secretion during the slow insulin release phase.

Science, this issue p. eaah6171

Structured Abstract


Insulin is secreted by pancreatic β cells in response to glucose stimulation. Its release is controlled by the interplay of calcium and phosphoinositide signaling pathways. A rapid release phase, in which insulin containing granules that are already docked and primed at the plasma membrane (PM) undergo exocytosis, is followed by slow release. In this second phase, granules are docked and primed and then released in a series of bursts, each triggered by a spike in cytosolic Ca2+.


To better understand the molecular basis underlying insulin secretion, we characterized TMEM24, a protein enriched in neuroendocrine cells previously suggested to be required for a normal secretory response.


We found that TMEM24 is an endoplasmic reticulum (ER) protein that concentrates at ER-PM contact sites, where it tethers the two bilayers. TMEM24 binding “in trans” to the PM is negatively regulated by phosphorylation in response to elevation of cytosolic Ca2+, so that TMEM24 transiently dissociates from the PM as Ca2+ concentration spikes and then reassociates with this membrane upon dephosphorylation. Additionally, TMEM24 contains a lipid transport module of the synaptotagmin-like, mitochondrial and lipid-binding protein (SMP) family, which we structurally characterized and showed to bind glycerolipids with a preference for phosphatidylinositol (PI). Thus, TMEM24 helps deliver PI, which is synthesized in the ER, to the PM, where it is converted to phosphatidylinositol-4,5-bisphosphate [PI(4,5)P2] to replenish pools of this lipid hydrolyzed during glucose-stimulated signaling. Supporting a key role of TMEM24 in the coordination of Ca2+ and phosphoinositide signaling, the lipid transport function of TMEM24 is essential for sustaining the intracellular Ca2+ oscillations that trigger bursts of insulin granule release and hence insulin secretion. PI(4,5)P2 is required for Ca2+-dependent exocytosis. It also controls the activity of PM ion channels that regulate cytosolic Ca2+ levels and is the precursor of IP3, which also helps to modulate cytosolic Ca2+ by triggering Ca2+ release from the ER. Thus, in insulin-secreting cells, TMEM24 participates in coordinating Ca2+ and phosphoinositide signaling pathways to cause pulsatile insulin secretion (see the figure).


Our findings implicate ER-PM contact sites and an ER resident lipid-transfer protein in the direct regulation of PM phosphoinositide pools, offering fresh insights into the mechanisms of cellular phosphoinositide dynamics. More specifically, they elaborate the mechanisms underlying insulin secretion, which is impaired in patients with type II diabetes and may ultimately have therapeutic ramifications.

TMEM24 activity cycle at ER-PM contacts.

Glucose stimulation of insulin-secreting cells triggers Ca2+ influx, phospholipase C–dependent PI(4,5)P2 cleavage, and granule exocytosis. Ca2+-stimulated phosphorylation causes TMEM24 dissociation from the PM and interruption of SMP-mediated PI transfer that allows PI(4,5)P2 resynthesis. Lowered PI(4,5)P2 levels attenuate the excitatory response. Dephosphorylation allows TMEM24 return to the PM to replenish PI(4,5)P2, permitting a new cycle of Ca2+ elevation and secretion.


Insulin is released by β cells in pulses regulated by calcium and phosphoinositide signaling. Here, we describe how transmembrane protein 24 (TMEM24) helps coordinate these signaling events. We showed that TMEM24 is an endoplasmic reticulum (ER)–anchored membrane protein whose reversible localization to ER-plasma membrane (PM) contacts is governed by phosphorylation and dephosphorylation in response to oscillations in cytosolic calcium. A lipid-binding module in TMEM24 transports the phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate [PI(4,5)P2] precursor phosphatidylinositol between bilayers, allowing replenishment of PI(4,5)P2 hydrolyzed during signaling. In the absence of TMEM24, calcium oscillations are abolished, leading to a defect in triggered insulin release. Our findings implicate direct lipid transport between the ER and the PM in the control of insulin secretion, a process impaired in patients with type II diabetes.

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