Culturing pancreatic islets in microfluidic flow enhances morphology of the associated endothelial cells

PLoS One. 2011;6(9):e24904. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024904. Epub 2011 Sep 22.


Pancreatic islets are heavily vascularized in vivo with each insulin secreting beta-cell associated with at least one endothelial cell (EC). This structure is maintained immediately post-isolation; however, in culture the ECs slowly deteriorate, losing density and branched morphology. We postulate that this deterioration occurs in the absence of blood flow due to limited diffusion of media inside the tissue. To improve exchange of media inside the tissue, we created a microfluidic device to culture islets in a range of flow-rates. Culturing the islets from C57BL6 mice in this device with media flowing between 1 and 7 ml/24 hr resulted in twice the EC-density and -connected length compared to classically cultured islets. Media containing fluorescent dextran reached the center of islets in the device in a flow-rate-dependant manner consistent with improved penetration. We also observed deterioration of EC morphology using serum free media that was rescued by addition of bovine serum albumin, a known anti-apoptotic signal with limited diffusion in tissue. We further examined the effect of flow on beta-cells showing dampened glucose-stimulated Ca(2+)-response from cells at the periphery of the islet where fluid shear-stress is greatest. However, we observed normal two-photon NAD(P)H response and insulin secretion from the remainder of the islet. These data reveal the deterioration of islet EC-morphology is in part due to restricted diffusion of serum albumin within the tissue. These data further reveal microfluidic devices as unique platforms to optimize islet culture by introducing intercellular flow to overcome the restricted diffusion of media components.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cell Size / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Endothelial Cells / drug effects
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Glucose / pharmacology
  • History, 20th Century
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Insulin Secretion
  • Islets of Langerhans / blood supply
  • Islets of Langerhans / drug effects
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques / instrumentation
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques / methods*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence, Multiphoton / methods
  • NADP / metabolism
  • Platelet Endothelial Cell Adhesion Molecule-1 / metabolism
  • Serum Albumin, Bovine / pharmacology
  • Tissue Culture Techniques


  • Insulin
  • Platelet Endothelial Cell Adhesion Molecule-1
  • Serum Albumin, Bovine
  • NADP
  • Glucose
  • Calcium