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Diabetes. 2013 Dec;62(12):4154-64. doi: 10.2337/db13-0071. Epub 2013 Jul 24.

Vascular endothelial growth factor-a and islet vascularization are necessary in developing, but not adult, pancreatic islets.

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Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee.


Pancreatic islets are highly vascularized mini-organs, and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-A is a critical factor in the development of islet vascularization. To investigate the role of VEGF-A and endothelial cells (ECs) in adult islets, we used complementary genetic approaches to temporally inactivate VEGF-A in developing mouse pancreatic and islet progenitor cells or in adult β-cells. Inactivation of VEGF-A early in development dramatically reduced pancreatic and islet vascularization, leading to reduced β-cell proliferation in both developing and adult islets and, ultimately, reduced β-cell mass and impaired glucose clearance. When VEGF-A was inactivated in adult β-cells, islet vascularization was reduced twofold. Surprisingly, even after 3 months of reduced islet vascularization, islet architecture and β-cell gene expression, mass, and function were preserved with only a minimal abnormality in glucose clearance. These data show that normal pancreatic VEGF-A expression is critical for the recruitment of ECs and the subsequent stimulation of endocrine cell proliferation during islet development. In contrast, although VEGF-A is required for maintaining the specialized vasculature observed in normal adult islets, adult β-cells can adapt and survive long-term reductions in islet vascularity. These results indicate that VEGF-A and islet vascularization have a lesser role in adult islet function and β-cell mass.

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