Objective: Glucagon-like peptide-1 induces glucose-dependent insulin secretion and, in rodents, increases proliferation and survival of pancreatic beta cells. To investigate the effects on human beta cells, we used immunodeficient mice transplanted with human islets. The goal was to determine whether lixisenatide, a glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonist, improves human islet function and survival in vivo.
Methods: Five independent transplant studies were conducted with human islets from five individual donors. Diabetic human islet-engrafted immunodeficient mice were treated with lixisenatide (50, 150, and 500 µg/kg) or vehicle. Islet function was determined by blood glucose, plasma human insulin/C-peptide, and glucose tolerance tests. Grafts were analyzed for total beta- and alpha-cell number, percent proliferation, and levels of apoptosis.
Results: Diabetic mice transplanted with marginal human islet mass and treated with lixisenatide were restored to euglycemia more rapidly than vehicle-treated mice. Glucose tolerance tests, human plasma insulin, and glucose-stimulation indices of lixisenatide-treated mice were significantly improved compared to vehicle-treated mice. The percentages of proliferating or apoptotic beta cells at graft recovery were not different between lixisenatide-treated and vehicle-treated mice. Nevertheless, in one experiment we found a significant twofold to threefold increase in human beta-cell numbers in lixisenatide-treated compared to vehicle-treated mice.
Conclusion: Diabetic human islet-engrafted immunodeficient mice treated with lixisenatide show improved restoration of normoglycemia, human plasma insulin, and glucose tolerance compared to vehicle-treated mice engrafted with the same donor islets. Because the proliferative capacity of human beta cells is limited, improved beta-cell survival coupled with enhanced beta-cell function following lixisenatide treatment may provide the greatest benefit for diabetic patients with reduced functional islet mass.
Keywords: GLP-1 receptor agonist; beta cells; glucose tolerance tests; human islet transplant; lixisenatide; plasma insulin.