What is a β cell? - Chapter I in the Human Islet Research Network (HIRN) review series

Mol Metab. 2021 Nov:53:101323. doi: 10.1016/j.molmet.2021.101323. Epub 2021 Aug 17.


Background: The pancreatic β cell, as the sole source of the vital hormone insulin, has been under intensive study for more than a century. Given the potential of newly created insulin-producing cells as a treatment or even cure of type 1 diabetes (T1D) and possibly in severe cases of type 2 diabetes (T2D), multiple academic and commercial laboratories are working to derive surrogate glucose-responsive, insulin-producing cells.

Scope of review: The recent development of advanced phenotyping technologies, including molecular, epigenomic, histological, or functional, have greatly improved our understanding of the critical properties of human β cells. Using this information, here we summarize the salient features of normal, fully functional adult human β cells, and propose minimal criteria for what should rightfully be termed 'β cells' as opposed to insulin-producing but not fully-functional surrogates that we propose should be referred to as 'β-like' cells or insulin-producing cells.

Major conclusions: Clear criteria can be established to differentiate fully functional, mature β cells from 'β-like' surrogates. In addition, we outline important knowledge gaps that must be addressed to enable a greater understanding of the β cell.

Keywords: Beta cell; Diabetes; Islet; Islet transplantation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Insulin-Secreting Cells / metabolism*


  • Insulin