In humans, type 2 diabetes mellitus shows a higher prevalence in men compared with women, a phenotype that has been attributed to a lower peripheral insulin sensitivity in men. Whether sex-specific differences in pancreatic β cell function also contribute is largely unknown. Here, we characterized the electrophysiological properties of β cells in intact male and female mouse islets. Elevation of glucose concentration above 5 mM triggered an electrical activity with a similar glucose dependence in β cells of both sexes. However, female β cells had a more depolarized membrane potential and increased firing frequency compared with males. The higher membrane depolarization in female β cells was caused by approximately 50% smaller Kv2.1 K+ currents compared with males but otherwise unchanged KATP, large-conductance and small-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ channels, and background TASK1/TALK1 K+ current densities. In female β cells, the higher depolarization caused a membrane potential–dependent inactivation of the voltage-gated Ca2+ channels (CaV), resulting in reduced Ca2+ entry. Nevertheless, this reduced Ca2+ influx was offset by a higher action potential firing frequency. Because exocytosis of insulin granules does not show a sex-specific difference, we conclude that the higher electrical activity promotes insulin release in females, improving glucose tolerance.


Noelia Jacobo-Piqueras, Tamara Theiner, Stefanie M. Geisler, Petronel Tuluc


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