Glucose is the main source of energy for the body, requiring constant regulation of its blood concentration. Insulin release by the pancreas induces glucose uptake by insulin-sensitive tissues, most notably the brain, skeletal muscle, and adipocytes. Patients suffering from type-2 diabetes and/or obesity often develop insulin resistance and are unable to control their glucose homeostasis. New insights into the mechanisms of insulin resistance may provide new treatment strategies for type-2 diabetes.
The GLUT family of glucose transporters consists of thirteen members distributed on different tissues throughout the body1. Glucose transporter type 4 (GLUT4) is the major transporter that mediates glucose uptake by insulin sensitive tissues, such as the skeletal muscle. Upon binding of insulin to its receptor, vesicles containing GLUT4 translocate from the cytoplasm to the plasma membrane, inducing glucose uptake. Reduced GLUT4 translocation is one of the causes of insulin resistance in type-2 diabetes2,3.
The translocation of GLUT4 from the cytoplasm to the plasma membrane can be visualized by immunocytochemistry, using fluorophore-conjugated GLUT4-specific antibodies.
Here, we describe a technique to quantify total amounts of GLUT4 translocation to the plasma membrane of cells during a chosen duration, using flow cytometry. This protocol is rapid (less than 4 hours, including incubation with insulin) and allows the analysis of as few as 3,000 cells or as many as 1 million cells per condition in a single experiment. It relies on anti-GLUT4 antibodies directed to an external epitope of the transporter that bind to it as soon as it is exposed to the extracellular medium after translocation to the plasma membrane.