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The widely expressed mammalian glucose transporter, GLUT1, can be acutely activated in L929 fibroblast cells by a variety of conditions, including glucose deprivation, or treatment with various respiration inhibitors. Known thiol reactive compounds including phenylarsine oxide and nitroxyl are the fastest acting stimulators of glucose uptake, implicating cysteine biochemistry as critical to the acute activation of GLUT1. In this study, we report that in L929 cells glucose uptake increases 6-fold as the pH of the uptake solution is increased from 6 to 9 with the half-maximal activation at pH 7.5; consistent with the pKa of cysteine residues. This pH effect is essentially blocked by the pretreatment of the cells with either iodoacetamide or cinnamaldehyde, compounds that form covalent adducts with reduced cysteine residues. In addition, the activation by alkaline pH is not additive at pH 8 with known thiol reactive activators such as phenylarsine oxide or hydroxylamine. Kinetic analysis in L929 cells at pH 7 and 8 indicate that alkaline conditions both increases the Vmax and decreases the Km of transport. This is consistent with the observation that pH activation is additive to methylene blue, which activates uptake by increasing the Vmax, as well as to berberine, which activates uptake by decreasing the Km. This suggests that cysteine biochemistry is utilized in both methylene blue and berberine activation of glucose uptake. In contrast a pH increase from 7 to 8 in HCLE cells does not further activate glucose uptake. HCLE cells have a 25-fold higher basal glucose uptake rate than L929 cells and the lack of a pH effect suggests that the cysteine biochemistry has already occurred in HCLE cells. The data are consistent with pH having a complex mechanism of action, but one likely mediated by cysteine biochemistry.

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