Isolated islets are important tools in diabetes research and are used for islet transplantation as a treatment for type 1 diabetes. Yet these cell clusters have a dramatic diffusion barrier that leads to core cell death. Computer modeling has provided theoretical size limitations, but little has been done to measure the actual rate of diffusion in islets. The purpose of this study was to directly measure the diffusion barrier in intact human islets and determine its role in restricting insulin secretion. Impeded diffusion into islets was monitored with fluorescent dextran beads. Dextran beads of 10-70 kDa failed to diffuse into the core of the intact islets, while 0.9 kDa probe was observed within the core of smaller islets. Diffusion of the fluorescent form of glucose, 2-NBDG, had similar diffusion limitations as the beads, with an average intra-islet diffusion rate of 1.5 ± 0.2 μm/min. The poor diffusion properties were associated with core cell death from necrosis, not apoptosis. Short-term exposure to a mild papain/0 Ca(2+) cocktail, dramatically reduced the diffusion barrier so that all cells within islets were exposed to media components. Lowering the diffusion barrier increased the immediate and long-term viability of islet cells, and tended to increase the amount of insulin released, especially in low glucose conditions. However, it failed to improve the large islet's glucose-stimulated insulin secretion. Thus, the islet diffusion barrier leads to low viability and poor survival of large islets, but is not solely responsible for the reduced insulin secretion of large isolated islets.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.