Altered islet composition and disproportionate loss of large islets in patients with type 2 diabetes

PLoS One. 2011;6(11):e27445. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0027445. Epub 2011 Nov 15.


Human islets exhibit distinct islet architecture with intermingled alpha- and beta-cells particularly in large islets. In this study, we quantitatively examined pathological changes of the pancreas in patients with type 2 diabetes (T2D). Specifically, we tested a hypothesis that changes in endocrine cell mass and composition are islet-size dependent. A large-scale analysis of cadaveric pancreatic sections from T2D patients (n = 12) and non-diabetic subjects (n = 14) was carried out combined with semi-automated analysis to quantify changes in islet architecture. The method provided the representative islet distribution in the whole pancreas section that allowed us to examine details of endocrine cell composition in individual islets. We observed a preferential loss of large islets (>60 µm in diameter) in T2D patients compared to non-diabetic subjects. Analysis of islet cell composition revealed that the beta-cell fraction in large islets was decreased in T2D patients. This change was accompanied by a reciprocal increase in alpha-cell fraction, however total alpha-cell area was decreased along with beta-cells in T2D. Delta-cell fraction and area remained unchanged. The computer-assisted quantification of morphological changes in islet structure minimizes sampling bias. Significant beta-cell loss was observed in large islets in T2D, in which alpha-cell ratio reciprocally increased. However, there was no alpha-cell expansion and the total alpha-cell area was also decreased. Changes in islet architecture were marked in large islets. Our method is widely applicable to various specimens using standard immunohistochemical analysis that may be particularly useful to study large animals including humans where large organ size precludes manual quantitation of organ morphology.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Islets of Langerhans / anatomy & histology*
  • Islets of Langerhans / cytology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Organ Size
  • Pancreas / pathology
  • Young Adult