Impact of islet architecture on β-cell heterogeneity, plasticity and function

Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2016 Dec;12(12):695-709. doi: 10.1038/nrendo.2016.147. Epub 2016 Sep 2.


Although β-cell heterogeneity was discovered more than 50 years ago, the underlying principles have been explored only during the past decade. Islet-cell heterogeneity arises during pancreatic development and might reflect the existence of distinct populations of progenitor cells and the developmental pathways of endocrine cells. Heterogeneity can also be acquired in the postnatal period owing to β-cell plasticity or changes in islet architecture. Furthermore, β-cell neogenesis, replication and dedifferentiation represent alternative sources of β-cell heterogeneity. In addition to a physiological role, β-cell heterogeneity influences the development of diabetes mellitus and its response to treatment. Identifying phenotypic and functional markers to discriminate distinct β-cell subpopulations and the mechanisms underpinning their regulation is warranted to advance current knowledge of β-cell function and to design novel regenerative strategies that target subpopulations of β cells. In this context, the Wnt/planar cell polarity (PCP) effector molecule Flattop can distinguish two unique β-cell subpopulations with specific transcriptional signatures, functional properties and differential responses to environmental stimuli. In vivo targeting of these β-cell subpopulations might, therefore, represent an alternative strategy for the future treatment of diabetes mellitus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cell Lineage*
  • Cell Plasticity*
  • Cell Polarity*
  • Humans
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / cytology*
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / metabolism
  • Islets of Langerhans / cytology
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins
  • Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Transcriptome


  • Flattop protein, mouse
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins