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Concept: Beta cell


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are antidepressants used for the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders. Here we demonstrate that incubation (2 h) of murine islets or Min6 β cell line with the SSRIs paroxetine, fluoxetine or sertraline inhibited insulin-induced Tyr phosphorylation of insulin receptor substrate (IRS)-2 protein and the activation of its downstream targets Akt and S6K1. Inhibition was dose-dependent with half-maximal effects at ~15-20 μM. It correlated with a rapid phosphorylation and activation of the IRS kinase GSK3β. Introduction of GSK3β-siRNAs eliminated the inhibitory effects of the SSRIs. Inhibition of IRS-2 action by 30 μM SSRIs was associated with a marked inhibition of glucose-stimulated insulin secretion from murine and human pancreatic islets. Secretion induced by basic secretagogues (KCl and Arg) was not affected by these drugs. Prolonged treatment (16h) of Min6 cells with sertraline resulted in the induction of iNOS; activation of an ER stress and the initiation of the Unfolded Protein Response (UPR), manifested by enhanced transcription of ATF4 and CHOP. This triggered an apoptotic process, manifested by enhanced caspase 3/7 activity, that resulted in beta cell death. These findings implicate SSRIs as inhibitors of IRS protein function and insulin action through the activation of GSK3β. They further suggest that SSRIs inhibit insulin secretion; induce the UPR; activate an apoptotic process and trigger beta cell death. Given that SSRIs promote insulin resistance while inhibiting insulin secretion, these drugs might accelerate the transition from an insulin resistant state to overt diabetes.

Concepts: Insulin, Islets of Langerhans, Beta cell, Serotonin, Antidepressant, Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, Sertraline, Fluoxetine


Loss of function mutations in EIF2AK3, encoding the Pancreatic Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER) Kinase, PERK, are associated with dysfunction of the endocrine pancreas and diabetes. However to date it has not been possible to uncouple the long term developmental effects of PERK deficiency from sensitization to physiological levels of ER unfolded protein stress upon interruption of PERK-modulation of protein synthesis rates. Here we report that a selective PERK inhibitor acutely deregulates protein synthesis in freshly isolated islets of Langerhans, across a range of glucose concentrations. Acute loss of the PERK-mediated strand of the unfolded protein response leads to rapid accumulation of misfolded pro-insulin in cultured beta cells and is associated with a kinetic defect in pro-insulin processing. These in vitro observations uncouple the latent role of PERK in beta cell development from the regulation of unfolded protein flux through the ER and attest to the importance of the latter in beta cell proteostasis.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Enzyme, Insulin, Islets of Langerhans, Pancreas, Beta cell, Amylin


VEGF-A expression in beta cells is critical for pancreatic development, formation of islet-specific vasculature and insulin secretion. However, two key questions remain. First, is VEGF-A release from beta cells coupled to VEGF-A production in beta cells? Second, how is the VEGF-A response by beta cells affected by metabolic signals? Here, we show that secretion of VEGF-A, but not VEGF-A gene transcription, in either cultured islets or purified pancreatic beta cells, was significantly reduced early on during low glucose conditions. In vivo, a sustained hypoglycemia in mice was induced with an insulin pellet, which resulted in a significant reduction in beta cell mass. This loss of beta cell mass could be significantly rescued with continuous delivery of exogenous VEGF-A, which had no effect on beta cell mass in normoglycemic mice. In addition, an increase in apoptotic endothelial cells during hypoglycemia preceded an increase in apoptotic beta cells. Both endothelial and beta cell apoptosis were prevented by exogenous VEGF-A, suggesting a possible causative relationship between reduced VEGF-A and the loss of islet vasculature and beta cells. Furthermore, in none of these experimental groups did beta cell proliferation and islet vessel density change, suggesting a tightly regulated balance between these two cellular compartments. The average islet size decreased in hypoglycemia, which was also prevented by exogenous VEGF-A. Taken together, our data suggest that VEGF-A release in beta cells is independent of VEGF-A synthesis. Beta cell mass can be regulated through modulated release of VEGF-A from beta cells based on physiological need.

Concepts: Protein, Gene, Enzyme, Insulin, Islets of Langerhans, Pancreas, Beta cell, Insulinoma


Pancreatic-duodenal homeobox-1 (Pdx1) and v-maf musculoaponeurotic fibrosarcoma oncogene homolog A (Mafa) play important roles in sustaining the pancreatic beta-cell differentiation phenotype. Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ (PPARγ) is also a regulator of cell differentiation. Our previous study revealed that glycated serum (GS) causes beta-cell dedifferentiation by down-regulating beta-cell specific genes, such as insulin and Pdx1. Here, we show that GS enhanced the cellular accumulation of ubiquitin-conjugated proteins, including Pdx1 and Mafa, in pancreatic beta-cells. Pharmacologic inhibition of proteolytic activity restored the protein levels of Pdx1 and Mafa, whereas inhibition of de novo protein synthesis accelerated their degradation. These findings suggest that both Pdx1 and Mafa are regulated at the post-transcriptional level. We further show that activation of PPARγ could restore GS-induced reduction of Pdx1 and Mafa protein levels, leading to improved insulin secretion and synthesis. Moreover, ectopic expression of Bcl-xl, a mitochondrial regulator, also restored Pdx1 and Mafa protein levels, linking mitochondrial function to Pdx1 and Mafa stability. Taken together, our results identify a key role of PPARγ in regulating pancreatic beta-cell function by improving the stability of Pdx1 and Mafa proteins.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Gene expression, Cell, Metabolism, Insulin, Beta cell


Zinc is essential for the activities of pancreatic beta-cells, especially insulin storage and secretion. Insulin secretion leads to co-release of zinc which contributes to the paracrine communication in the pancreatic islets. Zinc-transporting proteins (zinc-regulated transporter, iron-regulated transporter-like proteins [ZIPs] and zinc transporters [ZnTs]) and metal-buffering proteins (metallothioneins, MTs) tightly regulate intracellular zinc homeostasis. The present study investigated how modulation of cellular zinc availability affects beta-cell function using INS-1E cells.

Concepts: Enzyme, Insulin, Cell biology, Islets of Langerhans, Glucagon, Pancreas, Beta cell, Amylin


The arrangement of β cells within islets of Langerhans is critical for insulin release through the generation of rhythmic activity. A privileged role for individual β cells in orchestrating these responses has long been suspected, but not directly demonstrated. We show here that the β cell population in situ is operationally heterogeneous. Mapping of islet functional architecture revealed the presence of hub cells with pacemaker properties, which remain stable over recording periods of 2 to 3 hr. Using a dual optogenetic/photopharmacological strategy, silencing of hubs abolished coordinated islet responses to glucose, whereas specific stimulation restored communication patterns. Hubs were metabolically adapted and targeted by both pro-inflammatory and glucolipotoxic insults to induce widespread β cell dysfunction. Thus, the islet is wired by hubs, whose failure may contribute to type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Concepts: Insulin, Diabetes mellitus type 2, Diabetes mellitus, Glucose, Islets of Langerhans, Glucagon, Pancreas, Beta cell


Although diabetes results in part from a deficiency of normal pancreatic beta cells, inducing human beta cells to regenerate is difficult. Reasoning that insulinomas hold the “genomic recipe” for beta cell expansion, we surveyed 38 human insulinomas to obtain insights into therapeutic pathways for beta cell regeneration. An integrative analysis of whole-exome and RNA-sequencing data was employed to extensively characterize the genomic and molecular landscape of insulinomas relative to normal beta cells. Here, we show at the pathway level that the majority of the insulinomas display mutations, copy number variants and/or dysregulation of epigenetic modifying genes, most prominently in the polycomb and trithorax families. Importantly, these processes are coupled to co-expression network modules associated with cell proliferation, revealing candidates for inducing beta cell regeneration. Validation of key computational predictions supports the concept that understanding the molecular complexity of insulinoma may be a valuable approach to diabetes drug discovery.Diabetes results in part from a deficiency of functional pancreatic beta cells. Here, the authors study the genomic and epigenetic landscapes of human insulinomas to gain insight into possible pathways for therapeutic beta cell regeneration, highlighting epigenetic genes and pathways.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Insulin, Chromosome, Pancreas, Beta cell, Insulinoma


Since the publication of the United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS), the progressive nature of type 2 (DM2) diabetes has been identified as the main cause of failure to maintain a long term glycemic control.[1] The need to adjust treatment as the disease progressed was recognized and algorithms for treatments in line with this concept were developed.[2] The UKPDS showed that the progressive character of the disease results from a steady reduction, of approximately 5% per year, in the ability of beta cells to secrete insulin, a process estimated to begin 10 to 12 years before diagnosis, which triggers the onset of diabetes when approximately 50% of beta cell function has been lost. [1] Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Concepts: Insulin, Diabetes mellitus type 2, Diabetes mellitus, Islets of Langerhans, Pancreas, Beta cell, Insulin resistance, United Kingdom


Context: Insulin resistance can be compensated by increased functional pancreatic β-cell mass; otherwise, diabetes ensues. Such compensation depends not only on environmental and genetic factors but also on the baseline β-cell mass from which the expansion originates. Objective: Little is known about assembly of a baseline β-cell mass in humans. Here, we examined formation of β-cell populations relative to other pancreatic islet cell types and associated neurons throughout the normal human lifespan. Design and Methods: Human pancreatic sections derived from normal cadavers aged 24 wk premature to 72 yr were examined by immunofluorescence. Insulin, glucagon, and somatostatin were used as markers for β-, α-, and δ-cells, respectively. Cytokeratin-19 marked ductal cells, Ki67 cell proliferation, and Tuj1 (neuronal class III β-tubulin) marked neurons. Results: Most β-cell neogenesis was observed preterm with a burst of β-cell proliferation peaking within the first 2 yr of life. Thereafter, little indication of β-cell growth was observed. Postnatal proliferation of α- and δ-cells was rarely seen, but a wave of ductal cell proliferation was found mostly associated with exocrine cell expansion. The β-cell to α-cell ratio doubled neonatally, reflecting increased growth of β-cells, but during childhood, there was a 7-fold change in the β-cell to δ-cell ratio, reflecting an additional loss of δ-cells. A close association of neurons to pancreatic islets was noted developmentally and retained throughout adulthood. Negligible neuronal association to exocrine pancreas was observed. Conclusion: Human baseline β-cell population and appropriate association with other islet cell types is established before 5 yr of age.

Concepts: Insulin, Islets of Langerhans, Glucagon, Pancreas, Beta cell, Exocrine pancreas, Somatostatin, Alpha cell


The glucagonlike peptide 1 receptor (GLP-1R) is mainly expressed on β-cells in the islets of Langerhans and is therefore an attractive target for imaging of the β-cell mass. In the present study, (68)Ga-labeled exendin-4 was evaluated for PET imaging and quantification of GLP-1R in the pancreas. METHODS: Dose escalation studies of (68)Ga-labeled 1,4,7-tris(carboxymethylaza)cyclododecane-10-azaacetyl (DO3A)-exendin-4 were performed in rats (organ distribution) and cynomolgus monkeys (PET/CT imaging) to determine the GLP-1R-specific tissue uptake in vivo. Pancreatic uptake (as determined by organ distribution) in healthy rats was compared with that in diabetic rats. GLP-1R occupancy in the cynomolgus pancreas was quantified with a 1-tissue-compartment model. RESULTS: In rodents, uptake in the pancreas was decreased from the baseline by up to 90% (P < 0.0001) by coadministration of DO3A-exendin-4 at 100 μg/kg. Pancreatic uptake in diabetic animals was decreased by more than 80% (P < 0.001) compared with that in healthy controls, as measured by organ distribution. GLP-1R occupancy in the cynomolgus pancreas after coinjection of DO3A-exendin-4 at 0.15-20 μg/kg ranged from 49% to 97%, as estimated by compartment modeling. CONCLUSION: These results strongly support the notion that (68)Ga-DO3A-exendin-4 uptake in the pancreas is mediated by specific receptor binding. In addition, pancreatic uptake was decreased by selective destruction of β-cells. This result suggests that GLP-1R can be quantified in vivo, which has major implications for the prospect of imaging of native β-cells.

Concepts: Insulin, Islets of Langerhans, Glucagon, Pancreas, Beta cell, Ligand, Endocrine gland, Alpha cell