From endothelial to beta cells: insights into pancreatic islet microendothelium

Curr Diabetes Rev. 2008 Feb;4(1):1-9. doi: 10.2174/157339908783502415.


The microvasculature is a key interface between blood and tissues and participates in numerous pathophysiological processes. The heterogeneity of microvascular endothelial cells derived from different organs, suggests that these cells have specialised functions at different anatomical sites. Pancreatic islet microcirculation exhibits distinctive features, with an islet capillary network showing five times higher density than the capillary network of the exocrine counterpart and high permeability. Moreover, the islet microvascular endothelial cells show about 10 times more fenestrations than those of the exocrine tissue. In an interdependent physical and functional relationship with beta cells, islet endothelial cells are involved not only in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to endocrine cells, but induce insulin gene expression during islet development, affect adult beta cell function, promote beta cell proliferation, and produce a number of vasoactive, angiogenic substances and growth factors. Specific markers of islet microvasculature are alpha-1 proteinase inhibitor and nephrin, a highly specific barrier protein with adhesion and signalling function. The islet microendothelium also appears to have a role in fine-tuning blood glucose sensing and regulation, and to behave as an active "gatekeeper" in the control of leukocyte recruitment into the islets, adopting an activated phenotype during autoimmune insulitis in type 1 diabetes. This dense vasculature is therefore likely to play a role in the physiology as well as in the disease of the pancreatic islets. In this review we will describe the phenotypic and functional characteristics of islet microendothelium and its possible involvement in type 1 and 2 diabetes, and islet revascularisation in transplantation settings.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / pathology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / physiopathology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / surgery
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / pathology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / physiopathology
  • Endothelial Cells / cytology
  • Endothelial Cells / physiology*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / cytology
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / cytology
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / physiology*
  • Islets of Langerhans / blood supply
  • Islets of Langerhans / cytology
  • Islets of Langerhans / physiology*
  • Islets of Langerhans Transplantation
  • Microcirculation / physiology
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / physiology


  • VEGFA protein, human
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A