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Nat Chem Biol. 2018 Jan;14(1):86-93. doi: 10.1038/nchembio.2511. Epub 2017 Oct 30.

Synthetic beta cells for fusion-mediated dynamic insulin secretion.

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Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA.
Division of Pharmacoengineering and Molecular Pharmaceutics and Center for Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery, Eshelman School of Pharmacy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.
Department of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.


Generating artificial pancreatic beta cells by using synthetic materials to mimic glucose-responsive insulin secretion in a robust manner holds promise for improving clinical outcomes in people with diabetes. Here, we describe the construction of artificial beta cells (AβCs) with a multicompartmental 'vesicles-in-vesicle' superstructure equipped with a glucose-metabolism system and membrane-fusion machinery. Through a sequential cascade of glucose uptake, enzymatic oxidation and proton efflux, the AβCs can effectively distinguish between high and normal glucose levels. Under hyperglycemic conditions, high glucose uptake and oxidation generate a low pH (<5.6), which then induces steric deshielding of peptides tethered to the insulin-loaded inner small liposomal vesicles. The peptides on the small vesicles then form coiled coils with the complementary peptides anchored on the inner surfaces of large vesicles, thus bringing the membranes of the inner and outer vesicles together and triggering their fusion and insulin 'exocytosis'.

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