Quantitative analysis of mouse pancreatic islet architecture by serial block-face SEM

J Struct Biol. 2015 Jan;189(1):44-52. doi: 10.1016/j.jsb.2014.10.013. Epub 2014 Nov 8.


We have applied serial block-face scanning electron microscopy (SBF-SEM) to measure parameters that describe the architecture of pancreatic islets of Langerhans, microscopic endocrine organs that secrete insulin and glucagon for control of blood glucose. By analyzing entire mouse islets, we show that it is possible to determine (1) the distributions of alpha and beta cells, (2) the organization of blood vessels and pericapillary spaces, and (3) the ultrastructure of the individual secretory cells. Our results show that the average volume of a beta cell is nearly twice that of an alpha cell, and the total mitochondrial volume is about four times larger. In contrast, nuclear volumes in the two cell types are found to be approximately equal. Although the cores of alpha and beta secretory granules have similar diameters, the beta granules have prominent halos resulting in overall diameters that are twice those of alpha granules. Visualization of the blood vessels revealed that every secretory cell in the islet is in contact with the pericapillary space, with an average contact area of 9±5% of the cell surface area. Our data show that consistent results can be obtained by analyzing small numbers of islets. Due to the complicated architecture of pancreatic islets, such precision cannot easily be achieved by using TEM of thin sections.

Keywords: 3D reconstruction; Glucagon secreting granules; Insulin secreting granules; Pancreatic islets of Langerhans; Serial block face SEM.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Islets of Langerhans / blood supply
  • Islets of Langerhans / ultrastructure*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning / methods*
  • Mitochondria / ultrastructure