Integrated human pseudoislet system and microfluidic platform demonstrate differences in GPCR signaling in islet cells

JCI Insight. 2020 May 21;5(10):e137017. doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.137017.


Pancreatic islets secrete insulin from β cells and glucagon from α cells, and dysregulated secretion of these hormones is a central component of diabetes. Thus, an improved understanding of the pathways governing coordinated β and α cell hormone secretion will provide insight into islet dysfunction in diabetes. However, the 3D multicellular islet architecture, essential for coordinated islet function, presents experimental challenges for mechanistic studies of intracellular signaling pathways in primary islet cells. Here, we developed an integrated approach to study the function of primary human islet cells using genetically modified pseudoislets that resemble native islets across multiple parameters. Further, we developed a microperifusion system that allowed synchronous acquisition of GCaMP6f biosensor signal and hormone secretory profiles. We demonstrate the utility of this experimental approach by studying the effects of Gi and Gq GPCR pathways on insulin and glucagon secretion by expressing the designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs (DREADDs) hM4Di or hM3Dq. Activation of Gi signaling reduced insulin and glucagon secretion, while activation of Gq signaling stimulated glucagon secretion but had both stimulatory and inhibitory effects on insulin secretion, which occur through changes in intracellular Ca2+. The experimental approach of combining pseudoislets with a microfluidic system allowed the coregistration of intracellular signaling dynamics and hormone secretion and demonstrated differences in GPCR signaling pathways between human β and α cells.

Keywords: Diabetes; Endocrinology; Islet cells; Metabolism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biosensing Techniques*
  • Female
  • Glucagon-Secreting Cells / cytology
  • Glucagon-Secreting Cells / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin Secretion
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / cytology
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / metabolism*
  • Lab-On-A-Chip Devices*
  • Male
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled