Editors' ChoiceMetabolic Disease

Pacemaker cells for insulin release

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Science  02 Sep 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6303, pp. 1001-1002
DOI: 10.1126/science.353.6303.1001-e

Pancreatic islets keep blood glucose levels in check. When glucose is too high, β cells within the islets release insulin, which promotes glucose removal from the blood. But Johnson et al. now find that not all β cells play an equal role in this process. Optogenetic and photo-pharmacological methods revealed that mouse islets contain a handful of specialized β cells or “hubs” with pacemaker properties. Representing 1 to 10% of total β cells, hubs functionally wire the islets to coordinate responsiveness to glucose. Exposure to a proinflammatory milieu, a condition associated with type 2 diabetes, caused hub failure and collapse of islet function. Hub failure may thus underlie defective insulin release in this disorder.

A light micrograph of pancreatic islets, which house insulin-producing β cells


Cell Metab. 10.1016/j.cmet.2016.06.020 (2016).

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