Electrophysiology of islet cells

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2010;654:115-63. doi: 10.1007/978-90-481-3271-3_7.


Stimulus-Secretion Coupling (SSC) of pancreatic islet cells comprises electrical activity. Changes of the membrane potential (V(m)) are regulated by metabolism-dependent alterations in ion channel activity. This coupling is best explored in beta-cells. The effect of glucose is directly linked to mitochondrial metabolism as the ATP/ADP ratio determines the open probability of ATP-sensitive K(+) channels (K(ATP) channels). Nucleotide sensitivity and concentration in the direct vicinity of the channels are controlled by several factors including phospholipids, fatty acids, and kinases, e.g., creatine and adenylate kinase. Closure of K(ATP) channels leads to depolarization of beta-cells via a yet unknown depolarizing current. Ca(2+) influx during action potentials (APs) results in an increase of the cytosolic Ca(2+) concentration ([Ca(2+)](c)) that triggers exocytosis. APs are elicited by the opening of voltage-dependent Na(+) and/or Ca(2+) channels and repolarized by voltage- and/or Ca(2+)-dependent K(+) channels. At a constant stimulatory glucose concentration APs are clustered in bursts that are interrupted by hyperpolarized interburst phases. Bursting electrical activity induces parallel fluctuations in [Ca(2+)](c) and insulin secretion. Bursts are terminated by I(Kslow) consisting of currents through Ca(2+)-dependent K(+) channels and K(ATP) channels. This review focuses on structure, characteristics, physiological function, and regulation of ion channels in beta-cells. Information about pharmacological drugs acting on K(ATP) channels, K(ATP) channelopathies, and influence of oxidative stress on K(ATP) channel function is provided. One focus is the outstanding significance of L-type Ca(2+) channels for insulin secretion. The role of less well characterized beta-cell channels including voltage-dependent Na(+) channels, volume sensitive anion channels (VSACs), transient receptor potential (TRP)-related channels, and hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated (HCN) channels is discussed. A model of beta-cell oscillations provides insight in the interplay of the different channels to induce and maintain electrical activity. Regulation of beta-cell electrical activity by hormones and the autonomous nervous system is discussed. alpha- and delta-cells are also equipped with K(ATP) channels, voltage-dependent Na(+), K(+), and Ca(2+) channels. Yet the SSC of these cells is less clear and is not necessarily dependent on K(ATP) channel closure. Different ion channels of alpha- and delta-cells are introduced and SSC in alpha-cells is described in special respect of paracrine effects of insulin and GABA secreted from beta-cells.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / chemistry
  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Electrophysiology / methods*
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Ion Channels / physiology
  • Islets of Langerhans / physiology*
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Oscillometry / methods
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Potassium Channels / chemistry


  • Ion Channels
  • Potassium Channels
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Glucose
  • Calcium