Pancreatic islet plasticity: interspecies comparison of islet architecture and composition

Islets. May-Jun 2010;2(3):135-45. doi: 10.4161/isl.2.3.11815.


The pancreatic islet displays diverse patterns of endocrine cell arrangement. The prototypic islet, with insulin-secreting beta-cells forming the core surrounded by other endocrine cells in the periphery, is largely based on studies of normal rodent islets. Recent reports on large animals, including humans, show a difference in islet architecture, in which the endocrine cells are randomly distributed throughout the islet. This particular species difference has raised concerns regarding the interpretation of data based on rodent studies to humans. On the other hand, further variations have been reported in marsupials and some nonhuman primates, which possess an inverted ratio of beta-cells to other endocrine cells. This review discusses the striking plasticity of islet architecture and cellular composition among various species including changes in response to metabolic states within a single species. We propose that this plasticity reflects evolutionary acquired adaptation induced by altered physiological conditions, rather than inherent disparities between species.

Keywords: PP-cell; islet architecture; islet of Langerhans; pancreatic β-cell; α-cell; δ-cell.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Humans
  • Invertebrates / physiology
  • Islets of Langerhans / anatomy & histology*
  • Islets of Langerhans / cytology*
  • Islets of Langerhans / physiology*
  • Phylogeny
  • Species Specificity
  • Vertebrates / physiology