The pancreas is an important exocrine and endocrine gland located between the stomach and small intestine. It has two important roles (1) as an exocrine gland it releases digestive enzymes into the duodenum that aid in the break down of food (2) as an endocrine gland it releases insulin and glucagon into the bloodstream.
Insulin is produced in the beta cells of the islets of Langerhans in response to the stimulus of rising blood glucose levels. Insulin travels in the bloodstream and binds with receptor sites on the cell membranes, resulting in a cascade of events dependent on the cell type. In liver cells, for example, glucose in converted to glycogen, fat and carbon dioxide.
Glucagon is produced by alpha cells in the islets of Langerhans in response to the stimulus of falling blood glucose levels. Glucagon travels in the bloodstream and binds to receptor sites on liver cell membranes, resulting in the breakdown of stored glycogen into glucose. This results in an increase in blood glucose levels.
These two hormones act to regulate the body’s blood glucose levels, maintaining an average concentration of 5.0 mmol/Litre (between 3.5 mmol/Litre after several hours without food and 7.0 mmol/Litre soon after a meal). This is a negative feedback loop, as the response results in a change in the stimulus in the opposite direction. A person with diabetes is unable to regulate their own blood glucose levels without external intervention – it may be that their body does not produce enough insulin, as in Type 1 Diabetes mellitus.
- Insulin Signaling (Signal Pathways) (YouTube video 4.43min)
- GTAC online course – Chemical Signaling: Insulin (Registration with GTAC required)
- Regulation of Blood Glucose: Importance and Nutrient conversion (Username and password required)
- Diabetes Victoria
- Insulin-producing cells created in dish for the first time could transform diabetes treatment