Pancreatic islet β-cells metabolically sense nutrients to maintain blood glucose homeostasis through the regulated secretion of insulin. Long-term exposure to a mixed supply of excess glucose and fatty acids induces β-cell dysfunction and type II diabetes in a process termed glucolipotoxicity. Despite a number of documented mechanisms for glucolipotoxicity, the interplay between glucose and fatty acid oxidation in islets remains debated. Here, we develop confocal imaging of electron transfer flavoprotein (ETF) autofluorescence to reveal the dynamics of fatty acid oxidation in living pancreatic islets. This method further integrates microfluidic devices to hold the islets stationary in flow, and thus achieve ETF imaging in the β-cells with high spatial and temporal resolution. Our data first confirm that ETF autofluorescence reflects electron transport chain (ETC) activity downstream of Complex I, consistent with a response directly related to fatty acid metabolism. Together with two-photon imaging of NAD(P)H and confocal imaging of lipoamide dehydrogenase (LipDH) autofluorescence, we show that the ETC predominantly draws electrons from LipDH/NADH-dependent Complex I rather than from ETF/FADH2-dependent ETF:CoQ oxidoreductase (ETF-QO). Islets stimulated with palmitate also show increased ETF redox state that is dose-dependently diminished by glucose (>10 mM). Furthermore, stimulation with a glucose bolus causes a two-tier drop in the ETF redox state at ∼5 and ∼20 min, suggesting glucose metabolism immediately increases ETC activity and later decreases fatty acid oxidation. Our results demonstrate the utility of ETF imaging in characterizing fatty acid-induced redox responses with high subcellular and temporal resolution. Our results further demonstrate a dominant role of glucose metabolism over fatty acid oxidation in β-cells even when presented with a mixed nutrient condition associated with glucolipotoxicity.
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