Background: Insulin producing beta cell and glucagon producing alpha cells are colocalized in pancreatic islets in an arrangement that facilitates the coordinated release of the two principal hormones that regulate glucose homeostasis and prevent both hypoglycemia and diabetes. However, this intricate organization has also complicated the determination of the cellular source(s) of the expression of genes that are detected in the islet. This reflects a significant gap in our understanding of mouse islet physiology, which reduces the effectiveness by which mice model human islet disease.
Results: To overcome this challenge, we generated a bitransgenic reporter mouse that faithfully labels all beta and alpha cells in mouse islets to enable FACS-based purification and the generation of comprehensive transcriptomes of both populations. This facilitates systematic comparison across thousands of genes between the two major endocrine cell types of the islets of Langerhans whose principal hormones are of cardinal importance for glucose homeostasis. Our data leveraged against similar data for human beta cells reveal a core common beta cell transcriptome of 9900+ genes. Against the backdrop of overall similar beta cell transcriptomes, we describe marked differences in the repertoire of receptors and long non-coding RNAs between mouse and human beta cells.
Conclusions: The comprehensive mouse alpha and beta cell transcriptomes complemented by the comparison of the global (dis)similarities between mouse and human beta cells represent invaluable resources to boost the accuracy by which rodent models offer guidance in finding cures for human diabetes.