Assessment of human pancreatic islet architecture and composition by laser scanning confocal microscopy

J Histochem Cytochem. 2005 Sep;53(9):1087-97. doi: 10.1369/jhc.5C6684.2005. Epub 2005 May 27.


The recent success of pancreatic islet transplantation has generated considerable enthusiasm. To better understand the quality and characteristics of human islets used for transplantation, we performed detailed analysis of islet architecture and composition using confocal laser scanning microscopy. Human islets from six separate isolations provided by three different islet isolation centers were compared with isolated mouse and non-human primate islets. As expected from histological sections of murine pancreas, in isolated murine islets alpha and delta cells resided at the periphery of the beta-cell core. However, human islets were markedly different in that alpha, beta, and delta cells were dispersed throughout the islet. This pattern of cell distribution was present in all human islet preparations and islets of various sizes and was also seen in histological sections of human pancreas. The architecture of isolated non-human primate islets was very similar to that of human islets. Using an image analysis program, we calculated the volume of alpha, beta, and delta cells. In contrast to murine islets, we found that populations of islet cell types varied considerably in human islets. The results indicate that human islets not only are quite heterogeneous in terms of cell composition but also have a substantially different architecture from widely studied murine islets.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Insulin Secretion
  • Islets of Langerhans / cytology*
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Species Specificity


  • Insulin