Adaptation of islets of Langerhans to pregnancy: increased islet cell proliferation and insulin secretion correlates with the onset of placental lactogen secretion

Endocrinology. 1992 Mar;130(3):1459-66. doi: 10.1210/endo.130.3.1537300.


To elucidate the temporal profile of adaptive changes of the islets of Langerhans to the increased insulin demands of pregnancy, we have studied islet cell proliferation and insulin secretion during gestation in the rat. 5-Bromo-2'-deoxyuridine incorporation into dividing islet cells was significantly (P less than 0.05) increased over age-matched controls by day 10, rose continuously to a peak at day 14, and then returned to control levels by day 18. By day 20, cell division was significantly inhibited (P less than 0.05). The pattern of changes in insulin secretory profiles observed with perfused pancreata of pregnant animals was similar to that obtained for islet cell proliferation. Both the threshold of glucose-stimulated insulin secretion and the amount of above threshold insulin secretion began to diverge from controls by day 10. By day 12, the glucose-stimulation threshold was significantly decreased from 5.7 mM glucose to 3.3 mM (P less than 0.05), remained at this low level through day 15, and returned toward normal by day 20. Concomitant with the increased sensitivity of B cells to glucose, the above threshold insulin secretion was significantly increased by day 12 (P less than 0.05), peaked at day 15, and returned to control levels by day 20. This insulin secretory data demonstrates that the increased sensitivity of B cells to glucose is an important component of the adaptation of islets during pregnancy to the increased demand for insulin at physiological concentrations of plasma glucose. To correlate the above changes in islet cell proliferation and insulin secretion with levels of placental lactogen (PL), serum lactogenic hormone activity was measured by Nb2 lymphoma cell replication assays. This analysis revealed the expected biphasic pattern: a midpregnancy peak at day 12, followed by a nadir at day 14, and then continuously elevated levels until term. The bioassay data agreed with the known secretory profiles of rat (r) PL-I (midpregnancy) and rPL-II (late pregnancy). Our results provide the first systematic evaluation of changes in islet function during pregnancy in the rat. In addition, they provide evidence that rPL-I may be the critical hormonal signal which triggers the primary adaptive changes in islet function characteristic of pregnancy. The return to normal values of insulin secretion and inhibition of cell division observed at day 20 in the presence of high concentrations of rPL-II suggests that other inhibitory influences become dominant in the later stages of rat pregnancy.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Division / physiology
  • Female
  • Glucose / pharmacology
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Insulin / blood*
  • Islets of Langerhans / cytology*
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism*
  • Islets of Langerhans / physiology
  • Placental Lactogen / blood*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Animal / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy, Animal / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains


  • Insulin
  • Placental Lactogen
  • Glucose