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OBJECTIVE: To determine whether glucagon receptor (GCGR) actions are modulated by cellular cholesterol levels. METHODS: We determined the effects of experimental cholesterol depletion and loading on glucagon-mediated cAMP production, ligand internalisation and glucose production in human hepatoma cells, mouse and human hepatocytes. GCGR interactions with lipid bilayers were explored using coarse-grained molecular dynamic simulations. Glucagon responsiveness was measured in mice fed a high cholesterol diet with or without simvastatin to modulate hepatocyte cholesterol content. RESULTS: GCGR cAMP signalling was reduced by higher cholesterol levels across different cellular models. Ex vivo glucagon-induced glucose output from mouse hepatocytes was enhanced by simvastatin treatment. Mice fed a high cholesterol diet had increased hepatic cholesterol and a blunted hyperglycaemic response to glucagon, both of which were partially reversed by simvastatin. Simulations identified likely membrane-exposed cholesterol binding sites on the GCGR, including a site where cholesterol is a putative negative allosteric modulator. CONCLUSION: Our results indicate that cellular cholesterol content influences glucagon sensitivity and indicate a potential molecular basis for this phenomenon. This could be relevant to the pathogenesis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is associated with both hepatic cholesterol accumulation and glucagon resistance.

Original publication




Journal article


Mol Metab

Publication Date



Glucagon, cell membrane, cholesterol, glucagon receptor, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus