BACKGROUND: In order to gain information on the determinism of the perturbation of fuel homeostasis in situations characterized by a depletion in long-chain polyunsaturated ω3 fatty acids (ω3), the metabolic and hormonal status of ω3-depleted rats (second generation) was examined.

METHOD: When required, these rats were injected intravenously 120 min before sacrifice with a novel medium-chain triglyceride–fish oil emulsion able to provoke a rapid and sustained increase of the ω3 content in cell phospholipids. The measurement of plasma glucose, insulin, phospholipid, triglyceride, and unesterified fatty acid concentration indicated modest insulin resistance in the ω3-depleted rats. The plasma triglyceride and phospholipid concentrations were decreased in the ω3-depleted rats with abnormally low contribution of ω3 in both circulating and pancreatic islet lipids.

RESULTS: The protein, insulin, and lipid content of the islets, as well as their intracellular and extracellular spaces, were little affected in the ω3-depleted rats. The metabolism of D-glucose in the islets of ω3-depleted rats was characterized by a lesser increase in D-[5-3H]glucose utilization and D-[U-14C]glucose oxidation in response to a given rise in hexose concentration and an abnormally low ratio between D-glucose oxidation and utilization. These abnormalities could be linked to an increased metabolism of endogenous fatty acids with resulting alteration of glucokinase kinetics. The release of insulin evoked by D-glucose, at a close-to-physiological concentration (8.3 mM), was increased in the ω3-depleted rats, this being considered as consistent with their insulin resistance. Relative to such a release, that evoked by a further rise in D-glucose concentration or by non-glucidic nutrients was abnormally high in ω3-depleted rats, and restored to a normal level after of the intravenous injection of the ω3-rich medium-chain triglyceride–fish oil emulsion.

CONCLUSION: Because the latter procedure failed to correct the perturbation of D-glucose metabolism in the islets of ω3-depleted rats, it is proposed that the anomalies in the secretory behaviour of islets in terms of their response to an increase in hexose concentration or non-nutrient secretagogues is mainly attributable to alteration in K+ and Ca2+ handling, as indeed recently documented in separate experiments.