The unique cytoarchitecture of human pancreatic islets has implications for islet cell function

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Feb 14;103(7):2334-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0510790103. Epub 2006 Feb 6.


The cytoarchitecture of human islets has been examined, focusing on cellular associations that provide the anatomical framework for paracrine interactions. By using confocal microscopy and multiple immunofluorescence, we found that, contrary to descriptions of prototypical islets in textbooks and in the literature, human islets did not show anatomical subdivisions. Insulin-immunoreactive beta cells, glucagon-immunoreactive alpha cells, and somatostatin-containing delta cells were found scattered throughout the human islet. Human beta cells were not clustered, and most (71%) showed associations with other endocrine cells, suggesting unique paracrine interactions in human islets. Human islets contained proportionally fewer beta cells and more alpha cells than did mouse islets. In human islets, most beta, alpha, and delta cells were aligned along blood vessels with no particular order or arrangement, indicating that islet microcirculation likely does not determine the order of paracrine interactions. We further investigated whether the unique human islet cytoarchitecture had functional implications. Applying imaging of cytoplasmic free Ca2+ concentration, [Ca2+]i, we found that beta cell oscillatory activity was not coordinated throughout the human islet as it was in mouse islets. Furthermore, human islets responded with an increase in [Ca2+]i when lowering the glucose concentration to 1 mM, which can be attributed to the large contribution of alpha cells to the islet composition. We conclude that the unique cellular arrangement of human islets has functional implications for islet cell function.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Islets of Langerhans / chemistry
  • Islets of Langerhans / cytology*
  • Islets of Langerhans / physiology*
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Middle Aged