Aims/hypothesis: Long-term graft survival after islet transplantation to patients with type 1 diabetes is insufficient, necessitating the development of new strategies to enhance transplant viability. Here we investigated whether co-transplantation of neural crest stem cells (NCSCs) with islets improves islet survival and function in normoglycaemic and diabetic mice.
Methods: Islets alone or together with NCSCs were transplanted under the kidney capsule to normoglycaemic or alloxan-induced diabetic mice. Grafts were analysed for size, proliferation, apoptosis and insulin release. In diabetic recipients blood glucose levels were examined before and after graft removal.
Results: In mixed transplants NCSCs actively migrated and extensively associated with co-transplanted pancreatic islets. Proliferation of beta cells was markedly increased and transplants displayed improved insulin release in normoglycaemic mice compared with those receiving islet-alone transplants. Mixed grafts survived successfully and partially restored normoglycaemia in alloxan-induced diabetic mice.
Conclusions/interpretation: Co-grafting of NCSCs with pancreatic islets improved insulin release in mixed transplants and enhanced beta cell proliferation, resulting in increased beta cell mass. This co-transplantation model offers an opportunity to restore neural-islet interactions and improve islet functions after transplantation.