Background: The mass of pancreatic beta-cells varies according to increases in insulin demand. It is hypothesized that functionally heterogeneous beta-cell subpopulations take part in this process. Here we characterized two functionally distinct groups of beta-cells and investigated their physiological relevance in increased insulin demand conditions in rats.
Methods: Two rat beta-cell populations were sorted by FACS according to their PSA-NCAM surface expression, i.e. beta(high) and beta(low)-cells. Insulin release, Ca(2+) movements, ATP and cAMP contents in response to various secretagogues were analyzed. Gene expression profiles and exocytosis machinery were also investigated. In a second part, beta(high) and beta(low)-cell distribution and functionality were investigated in animal models with decreased or increased beta-cell function: the Zucker Diabetic Fatty rat and the 48 h glucose-infused rat.
Results: We show that beta-cells are heterogeneous for PSA-NCAM in rat pancreas. Unlike beta(low)-cells, beta(high)-cells express functional beta-cell markers and are highly responsive to various insulin secretagogues. Whereas beta(low)-cells represent the main population in diabetic pancreas, an increase in beta(high)-cells is associated with gain of function that follows sustained glucose overload.
Conclusion: Our data show that a functional heterogeneity of beta-cells, assessed by PSA-NCAM surface expression, exists in vivo. These findings pinpoint new target populations involved in endocrine pancreas plasticity and in beta-cell defects in type 2 diabetes.