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Spyridon Champeris Tsaniras and Peter M Jones

Type 1 diabetes results from an insufficiency of insulin production as a result of autoimmune destruction of the insulin-secreting pancreatic β-cells. It can be treated by transplantation of islets of Langerhans from human donors, but widespread application of this therapy is restricted by the scarcity of donor tissue. Generation of functional β-cells from embryonic stem (ES) cells in vitro could provide a source of an alternative graft material. Several ES cell differentiation protocols have reported the production of insulin-producing cells by mimicking the in vivo developmental stages of pancreatic organogenesis in which cells are transitioned through mesendoderm, definitive endoderm, foregut endoderm, pancreatic endoderm, and the endocrine precursor stage, until mature β-cells are obtained. These studies provide proof of concept that recapitulating pancreatic development in vitro offers a useful strategy for generating β-cells, but current differentiation protocols employ a bewildering variety of growth factors, mitogens, and pharmacological agents. In this review, we will attempt to clarify the functions of these agents in in vitro differentiation strategies by focusing on the intracellular signaling pathways through which they operate – phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase, transforming growth factor β, Wnt/β-catenin, Hedgehog, and Notch.

Free access

Christopher J Burns, Shanta J Persaud and Peter M Jones

Type 1 diabetes can now be ameliorated by islet transplantation, although this treatment is restricted by the insufficient supply of islet tissue. The need for an essentially limitless supply of a substitute for primary human islets of Langerhans has led to research into the suitability of stem/progenitor cells to generate insulin-producing cells to use in replacement therapies for diabetes. Although there has been much research in this area, an efficient and reproducible protocol for the differentiation of stem cells into functional insulin-secreting β-cells that are suitable for transplantation has yet to be reported. In this commentary we examine the minimum requirements for replacement β-cells and outline some of the potential sources of these cells. We also argue that the generation of the ‘perfect’ beta-cell may not necessarily lead to the most suitable tissue for transplantation.

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Astrid C Hauge-Evans, James Bowe, Zara J Franklin, Zoheb Hassan and Peter M Jones

The inhibitory effect of somatostatin (SST) on insulin secretion in vivo is attributed to a direct effect on pancreatic beta cells, but this is inconsistent with some in vitro results in which exogenous SST is ineffective in inhibiting secretion from isolated islets. We therefore investigated whether insulin secretion from the pancreatic islets may partly be regulated by an indirect effect of SST mediated via the CNS. Islet hormone secretion was assessed in vitro by perifusion and static incubations of isolated islets and in vivo by i.v. or i.c.v. administration of the SST analogue BIM23014C with an i.v. glucose challenge to conscious, chronically catheterised rats. Hormone content of samples was assessed by ELISA or RIA and blood glucose levels using a glucose meter. Exogenous SST14/SST28 or BIM23014C did not inhibit the release of insulin from isolated rodent islets in vitro, whereas peripheral i.v. administration of BIM23014C (7.5 μg) with glucose (1 g/kg) led to decreased plasma insulin content (2.3±0.5 ng insulin/ml versus 4.5±0.5 ng/ml at t=5 min, P<0.001) and elevated blood glucose levels compared with those of the controls (29.19±1.3 mmol/l versus 23.5±1.7 mmol/l, P<0.05). In contrast, central i.c.v. injection of BIM23014C (0.75 μg) had no significant effect on either plasma insulin (3.3±0.4 ng/ml, P>0.05) or blood glucose levels (23.5±1.7 mmol/l, P>0.05) although i.v. administration of this dose increased blood glucose concentrations (32.3±0.7 mmol/l, P<0.01). BIM23014C did not measurably alter plasma glucagon, SST, GLP1 or catecholamine levels whether injected i.v. or i.c.v. These results indicate that SST does not suppress insulin secretion by a centrally mediated effect but acts peripherally on islet cells.

Free access

James E Bowe, Zara J Franklin, Astrid C Hauge-Evans, Aileen J King, Shanta J Persaud and Peter M Jones

The pathophysiology of diabetes as a disease is characterised by an inability to maintain normal glucose homeostasis. In type 1 diabetes, this is due to autoimmune destruction of the pancreatic β-cells and subsequent lack of insulin production, and in type 2 diabetes it is due to a combination of both insulin resistance and an inability of the β-cells to compensate adequately with increased insulin release. Animal models, in particular genetically modified mice, are increasingly being used to elucidate the mechanisms underlying both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and as such the ability to study glucose homeostasis in vivo has become an essential tool. Several techniques exist for measuring different aspects of glucose tolerance and each of these methods has distinct advantages and disadvantages. Thus the appropriate methodology may vary from study to study depending on the desired end-points, the animal model, and other practical considerations. This review outlines the most commonly used techniques for assessing glucose tolerance in rodents and details the factors that should be taken into account in their use. Representative scenarios illustrating some of the practical considerations of designing in vivo experiments for the measurement of glucose homeostasis are also discussed.

Open access

Sian J S Simpson, Lorna I F Smith, Peter M Jones and James E Bowe

The corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) family of peptides, including urocortin (UCN) 1, 2 and 3, are established hypothalamic neuroendocrine peptides, regulating the physiological and behaviour responses to stress indirectly, via the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. More recently, these peptides have been implicated in diverse roles in peripheral organs through direct signalling, including in placental and pancreatic islet physiology. CRH has been shown to stimulate insulin release through activation of its cognate receptors, CRH receptor 1 (CRHR1) and 2. However, the physiological significance of this is unknown. We have previously reported that during mouse pregnancy, expression of CRH peptides increase in mouse placenta suggesting that these peptides may play a role in various biological functions associated with pregnancy, particularly the pancreatic islet adaptations that occur in the pregnant state to compensate for the physiological increase in maternal insulin resistance. In the current study, we show that mouse pregnancy is associated with increased circulating levels of UCN2 and that when we pharmacologically block endogenous CRHR signalling in pregnant mice, impairment of glucose tolerance is observed. This effect on glucose tolerance was comparable to that displayed with specific CRHR2 blockade and not with specific CRHR1 blockade. No effects on insulin sensitivity or the proliferative capacity of β-cells were detected. Thus, CRHR2 signalling appears to be involved in β-cell adaptive responses to pregnancy in the mouse, with endogenous placental UCN2 being the likely signal mediating this.

Free access

Elizabeth Gray, Dany Muller, Paul E Squires, Henry Asare-Anane, Guo-Cai Huang, Stephanie Amiel, Shanta J Persaud and Peter M Jones

The extracellular calcium-sensing receptor (CaR) is usually associated with systemic Ca2+ homeostasis, but the CaR is also expressed in many other tissues, including pancreatic islets of Langerhans. In the present study, we have used human islets and an insulin-secreting cell line (MIN6) to investigate the effects of CaR activation using the calcimimetic R-568, a CaR agonist that activates the CaR at physiological concentrations of extracellular Ca2+. CaR activation initiated a marked but transient insulin secretory response from both human islets and MIN6 cells at a sub-stimulatory concentration of glucose, and further enhanced glucose-induced insulin secretion. CaR-induced insulin secretion was reduced by inhibitors of phospholipase C or calcium–calmodulin-dependent kinases, but not by a protein kinase C inhibitor. CaR activation was also associated with an activation of p42/44 mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK), and CaR-induced insulin secretion was reduced by an inhibitor of p42/44 MAPK activation. We suggest that the β-cell CaR is activated by divalent cations co-released with insulin, and that this may be an important mechanism of intra-islet communication between β-cells.