Beta cell dysfunction in diabetes: the islet microenvironment as an unusual suspect

Diabetologia. 2020 Oct;63(10):2076-2085. doi: 10.1007/s00125-020-05186-5. Epub 2020 Sep 7.


Cells in different tissues, including endocrine cells in the pancreas, live in complex microenvironments that are rich in cellular and acellular components. Intricate interactions with their microenvironment dictate most cellular properties, such as their function, structure and size, and maintain tissue homeostasis. Pancreatic islets are populated by endocrine, vascular and immune cells that are immersed in the extracellular matrix. While the intrinsic properties of beta cells have been vastly investigated, our understanding of their interactions with their surroundings has only recently begun to unveil. Here, we review current research on the interplay between the islet cellular and acellular components, and the role these components play in beta cell physiology and pathophysiology. Although beta cell failure is a key pathomechanism in diabetes, its causes are far from being fully elucidated. We, thus, propose deleterious alterations of the islet niche as potential underlying mechanisms contributing to beta cell failure. In sum, this review emphasises that the function of the pancreatic islet depends on all of its components. Graphical abstract.

Keywords: Extracellular matrix; Homeostasis; Microenvironment; Pancreatic islet; Pericytes; Review.

Publication types

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