Insulin degradation by acinar cell proteases creates a dysfunctional environment for human islets before/after transplantation: benefits of α-1 antitrypsin treatment

Transplantation. 2011 Dec 15;92(11):1222-30. doi: 10.1097/TP.0b013e318237585c.


Background: Pancreatic acinar cells are commonly cotransplanted along with islets during auto- and allotransplantations. The aims of this study were to identify how acinar cell proteases cause human islet cell loss before and after transplantation of impure islet preparations and to prevent islet loss and improve function with supplementation of α-1 antitrypsin (A1AT).

Methods: Acinar cell protease activity, insulin levels, and percent islet loss were measured after culture of pure and impure clinical islet preparations. The effect of proteases on ultrastructure of islets and β-cell insulin granules were examined by transmission electron microscopy. The number of insulin granules and insulin-labeled immunogold particles were counted. The in vivo effect of proteases on islet function was studied by transplanting acinar cells adjacent to islet grafts in diabetic mice. The effects of A1AT culture supplementation on protease activity, insulin levels, and islet function were assessed in pure and impure islets.

Results: Islet loss after culture was significantly higher in impure relative to pure preparations (30% vs. 14%, P<0.04). Lower islet purity was associated with increased protease activity and decreased insulin levels in culture supernatants. Reduced β-cell insulin granules and insulin degradation by proteases were confirmed by transmission electron microscopy. Transplantations in mice showed delayed islet graft function when acinar cells were transplanted adjacent to the islets under the kidney capsule. Supplementation of A1AT to impure islet cultures maintained islet cell mass, restored insulin levels, and preserved islet functional integrity.

Conclusion: Culture of impure human islet fractions in the presence of A1AT prevents insulin degradation and improves islet recovery.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acinar Cells / cytology
  • Acinar Cells / enzymology*
  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Experimental / chemically induced
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Experimental / surgery
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Graft Survival / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Islets of Langerhans / cytology
  • Islets of Langerhans / drug effects*
  • Islets of Langerhans / physiopathology*
  • Islets of Langerhans Transplantation / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Peptide Hydrolases / drug effects
  • Peptide Hydrolases / metabolism*
  • Serine Proteinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Streptozocin / adverse effects
  • Transplantation, Heterologous
  • Treatment Outcome
  • alpha 1-Antitrypsin / pharmacology*


  • Insulin
  • Serine Proteinase Inhibitors
  • alpha 1-Antitrypsin
  • Streptozocin
  • Peptide Hydrolases