Long lasting synchronization of calcium oscillations by cholinergic stimulation in isolated pancreatic islets

Biophys J. 2008 Nov 15;95(10):4676-88. doi: 10.1529/biophysj.107.125088. Epub 2008 Aug 15.


Individual mouse pancreatic islets exhibit oscillations in [Ca(2+)](i) and insulin secretion in response to glucose in vitro, but how the oscillations of a million islets are coordinated within the human pancreas in vivo is unclear. Islet to islet synchronization is necessary, however, for the pancreas to produce regular pulses of insulin. To determine whether neurohormone release within the pancreas might play a role in coordinating islet activity, [Ca(2+)](i) changes in 4-6 isolated mouse islets were simultaneously monitored before and after a transient pulse of a putative synchronizing agent. The degree of synchronicity was quantified using a novel analytical approach that yields a parameter that we call the "Synchronization Index". Individual islets exhibited [Ca(2+)](i) oscillations with periods of 3-6 min, but were not synchronized under control conditions. However, raising islet [Ca(2+)](i) with a brief application of the cholinergic agonist carbachol (25 microM) or elevated KCl in glucose-containing saline rapidly synchronized islet [Ca(2+)](i) oscillations for >/=30 min, long after the synchronizing agent was removed. In contrast, the adrenergic agonists clonidine or norepinephrine, and the K(ATP) channel inhibitor tolbutamide, failed to synchronize islets. Partial synchronization was observed, however, with the K(ATP) channel opener diazoxide. The synchronizing action of carbachol depended on the glucose concentration used, suggesting that glucose metabolism was necessary for synchronization to occur. To understand how transiently perturbing islet [Ca(2+)](i) produced sustained synchronization, we used a mathematical model of islet oscillations in which complex oscillatory behavior results from the interaction between a fast electrical subsystem and a slower metabolic oscillator. Transient synchronization simulated by the model was mediated by resetting of the islet oscillators to a similar initial phase followed by transient "ringing" behavior, during which the model islets oscillated with a similar frequency. These results suggest that neurohormone release from intrapancreatic neurons could help synchronize islets in situ. Defects in this coordinating mechanism could contribute to the disrupted insulin secretion observed in Type 2 diabetes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism*
  • Calcium Signaling / physiology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cholinergic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Islets of Langerhans / physiology*
  • Long-Term Potentiation / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological*


  • Cholinergic Agents
  • Acetylcholine
  • Calcium