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Islets. 2013 Mar-Apr;5(2):87-94. doi: 10.4161/isl.24780. Epub 2013 Mar 1.

Small human islets comprised of more β-cells with higher insulin content than large islets.

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School of Medicine, University of Kansas Medicine Center, Kansas City, KS, USA.


For the past 30 years, data have suggested that unique islet populations exist, based on morphology and glucose sensitivity. Yet little has been done to determine the mechanism of these functional differences. The purpose of this study was to determine whether human islets were comprised functionally unique populations, and to elucidate a possible mechanism. Islets or pancreatic sections from 29 human donors were analyzed. Islets were isolated and measured for insulin secretion, cell composition and organization, insulin and glucagon granule density and insulin content. Insulin secretion was significantly greater in small compared with large islets. In sectioned human pancreata, β-cells comprised a higher proportion of the total endocrine cells in small islets (63%) than large islets (39%). A higher percentage of β-cells in small islets contacted blood vessels (44%) compared with large islets (31%). Total insulin content of isolated human islets was significantly greater in the small (1323 ± 512 μIU/IE) compared with large islets (126 ± 48 μIU/IE). There was less immunostaining for insulin in the large islets from human pancreatic sections, especially in the core of the islet, compared with small islets. The results suggest that differences in insulin secretion between large and small islets may be due to a higher percentage of β-cells in small islets with more β-cells in contact with blood vessels and a higher concentration of insulin/β-cell in small islets.


blood vessels; glucagon; human; insulin; islet morphology; islets; lymphatics; α-cell; β-cell

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