Regeneration of mature cells that produce functional insulin represents a major focus and a challenge of current diabetes research aimed at restoring beta cell mass in patients with most forms of diabetes, as well as in ageing. The capacity to adapt to diverse physiological states during life and the consequent ability to cope with increased metabolic demands in the normal regulation of glucose homeostasis is a distinctive feature of the endocrine pancreas in mammals. Both beta and alpha cells, and presumably other islet cells, are dynamically regulated via nutrient, neural and/or hormonal activation of growth factor signalling and the post-transcriptional modification of a variety of genes or via the microbiome to continually maintain a balance between regeneration (e.g. proliferation, neogenesis) and apoptosis. Here we review key regulators that determine islet cell mass at different ages in mammals. Understanding the chronobiology and the dynamics and age-dependent processes that regulate the relationship between the different cell types in the overall maintenance of an optimally functional islet cell mass could provide important insights into planning therapeutic approaches to counter and/or prevent the development of diabetes.