Control of blood glucose concentration

Organisms respond to changes in their internal and external environments (AQA A2 Biology) PART 8 of 9 TOPICS




TOPICS: Survival and response  Receptors  Control of heart rate  Nerve impulses  Synaptic transmission  Skeletal muscles are stimulated to contract by nerves and act as effectors  Principals of homeostasis and negative feedback  Control of blood glucose concentration  Control of blood water potential

Control of blood glucose concentration:

Factors that affect glucose concentration are food, medication, activity, biological, environmental and many more.

Insulin is released from the beta cells of the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas when high levels of glucose are detected. It binds insulin receptors of the liver which stimulates the conversion of glucose to glycogen (glycogenesis) and glucose to fat. This causes the level of glucose to drop. If the blood glucose concentration becomes too low, it is detected by the alpha cells of the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas. These produce glucagon which binds to receptors of the liver cells. This stimulates the conversion of glycogen to glucose (glycogenolysis) and using other biological molecules such as amino acids and glycerol to convert them into glucose (gluconeogenesis). This will cause an increase in the level of glucose. This whole process is known to be multiple feedback as the levels of glucose fluctuate around the normal level.

Insulin that is secreted by the beta cells also binds to insulin receptors of body cells. This increases the rate of absorption of glucose into the body cells particularly muscle cells and is used for respiration.

The adrenal glands are found on top of each kidney and it consists of the adrenal cortex and adrenal medulla:

  • Adrenal cortex: This releases cortisol which is secreted when glycogen stores run out. It stimulates gluconeogenesis which increases glucose levels quickly.
  • Adrenal medulla: This releases adrenaline and causes glycogenolysis. NB: Adrenal medulla may be abbreviated into just medulla. However it may get confusing with the medulla oblongata in the brain which is also abbreviated into medulla. It is better to learn adrenal medulla than just medulla.

How does adrenaline cause glycogen to turn into glucose: It is not a one step process which is as follows. Adrenaline, the first messenger, binds to receptors on the cell surface membrane to create hormone-receptor complex. The formation of the complex causes the enzyme adenylate cyclase/adenylyl cyclase to be activated. NB: Some textbooks and websites may say that a protein is activated by the complex which in turn stimulates the enzyme adenylate cyclase/adenylyl cyclase. The protein does not need to be known for AQA. It catalyses the conversion of ATP into cyclic AMP which is the second messenger. NB: Cyclic AMP can be abbreviated into cAMP. If you want to use this make sure you know that the little c stands for cyclic. Cyclic AMP activates an enzyme, Protein Kinase A/Protein Kinase, in the cell which starts a cascade of reactions. The last reaction to occur is the conversion of glycogen into glucose (glycogenolysis).

Diabetes/Diabetes mellitus is a disorder where the blood glucose levels are not regulated properly. There are two types:

  • Type 1/insulin-dependent: This occurs suddenly in childhood. The body is unable to produce any insulin and is thought to be because the beta cells of the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas have been targeted by the immune system. The levels of glucose can be controlled by regular injections with insulin and the careful management of diet and exercise.
  • Type 2/insulin-independent: This occurs mainly in people over the age of 40 however it is becoming increasingly more common in adolescents too. This condition arises when the insulin receptors are no longer responsive to insulin or an inadequate amount of insulin is being made by the beta cells. This too can be controlled by the careful management of diet and exercise.


  • Glucagon is the hormone which increases the level of glucose (gluc- for glucose and -on at the end shows the level of glucose has been turned on)
  • Glycogenesis is where glycogen is being made (glyco- for glycogen and -genesis means made)
  • Gluconeogenesis is where glucose is made from non-carbohydrates such as amino acids and glycerol (gluco- is for glucose, -neo- means new where a new source is used to make glucose and -genesis means made)
  • Glycogenolysis is where glycogen is broken down into glucose (glyco- is for glycogen and -lysis means breaking down)