Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Animal Nutrition and Food Science

First Advisor

Feng-Qi Zhao


In humans, the functional regulation of facilitative glucose transporters (GLUTs) by insulin plays a central role in the maintenance of glucose homeostasis. The insensitivity of tissues to this regulation results in diabetes mellitus, however, the underlying mechanisms remain largely unknown. To establish Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) as a model system to study the mechanisms of insulin regulation of GLUTs because of the well-conserved insulin/IGF-like signaling (IIS) and many unique advantages of this organism, we functionally characterized 9 candidate genes of human GLUT homologues in C. elegans based on their sequence homologies to GLUTs. We found that FGT-1 is the only functional GLUT homologue with the ability to transport 2-deoxy-D-glucose (2DG) in Xenopus oocytes. FGT-1 mediated 2DG transport could be inhibited by the GLUT inhibitor phloretin and exhibited a Michaelis constant (Km) of 2.8 mM, which is smaller than the Km values of human GLUT1 and GLUT4. In addition to glucose, FGT-1 could also transport mannose, galactose, and fructose. Using a FGT-1::GFP fusion construct under the control of the 5 kb promoter sequence of the fgt-1a gene, FGT-1 was shown to be ubiquitously expressed in C. elegans tissues and cells, including the digestive tract, neurons, and body wall muscle. Two FGT-1 alternative splicing isoforms, FGT-1A and FGT-1B, showed similar transport activity and tissue localization.

To study the function of FGT-1 and its regulation by IIS, the changes in several phenotypes that are known to be regulated by IIS were observed in FGT-1-knockdown worms or null strains in the presence or absence of IIS activity. FGT-1 knockdown resulted in fat accumulation but had no effects on dauer formation or brood size in both wild-type and daf-2 (insulin receptor) gene mutant strains. However, the function of FGT-1 in animal growth and aging was dependent on the IIS background, suggesting IIS regulation of FGT-1 function. Consistently, FGT-1 mediated glucose uptake was almost completely defective in the daf-2 and age-1 (PI3 kinase) mutants, and phloretin could only marginally inhibit 2DG uptake in these strains. This defect was only partially related to the approximately 60% decrease in FGT-1 protein levels in these mutants, suggesting the involvements of both post-transcriptional and post-translational regulatory mechanisms. We also found that OGA-1, an O-GlcNAcase, is essential for the function of FGT-1, implying possible regulation of FGT-1 function by glycosylation.

In summary, our study has established C. elegans as a powerful model to study the mechanism by which insulin regulates glucose transporters and has provided insights into the mechanism of defective glucose uptake by tissues in patients with diabetes.



Number of Pages

202 p.

Included in

Physiology Commons