GABA and pancreatic beta-cells: colocalization of glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) and GABA with synaptic-like microvesicles suggests their role in GABA storage and secretion

EMBO J. 1991 May;10(5):1275-84. doi: 10.1002/j.1460-2075.1991.tb08069.x.


GABA, a major inhibitory neurotransmitter of the brain, is also present at high concentration in pancreatic islets. Current evidence suggests that within islets GABA is secreted from beta-cells and regulates the function of mantle cells (alpha- and delta-cells). In the nervous system GABA is stored in, and secreted from, synaptic vesicles. The mechanism of GABA secretion from beta-cells remains to be elucidated. Recently the existence of synaptic-like microvesicles has been demonstrated in some peptide-secreting endocrine cells. The function of these vesicles is so far unknown. The proposed paracrine action of GABA in pancreatic islets makes beta-cells a useful model system to explore the possibility that synaptic-like microvesicles, like synaptic vesicles, are involved in the storage and release of non-peptide neurotransmitters. We report here the presence of synaptic-like microvesicles in beta-cells and in beta-cells. Some beta-cells in culture were found to extend neurite-like processes. When these were present, synaptic-like microvesicles were particularly concentrated in their distal portions. The GABA synthesizing enzyme, glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), was found to be localized around synaptic-like microvesicles. This was similar to the localization of GAD around synaptic vesicles in GABA-secreting neurons. GABA immunoreactivity was found to be concentrated in regions of beta-cells which were enriched in synaptic-like microvesicles. These findings suggest that in beta-cells synaptic-like microvesicles are storage organelles for GABA and support the hypothesis that storage of non-peptide signal molecules destined for secretion might be a general feature of synaptic-like microvesicles of endocrine cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies / immunology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Glutamate Decarboxylase / analysis*
  • Islets of Langerhans / enzymology
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism*
  • Islets of Langerhans / ultrastructure
  • Neurons / enzymology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Synaptic Vesicles / enzymology
  • Synaptic Vesicles / metabolism*
  • Synaptic Vesicles / ultrastructure
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / immunology
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*


  • Antibodies
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Glutamate Decarboxylase