Emerging molecular technologies for light-mediated modulation of pancreatic beta-cell function

Zijing Chen, Leah Truskinovsky, Emmanuel S. Tzanakakis


Optogenetic modalities as well as optochemical and photopharmacological strategies, collectively termed optical methods, have revolutionized the control of cellular functions via light with great spatiotemporal precision. In comparison to the major advances in the photomodulation of signaling activities noted in neuroscience, similar applications to endocrine cells of the pancreas, particularly insulin-producing β-cells, have been limited. The availability of tools allowing light-mediated changes in the trafficking of ions such as K+ and Ca2+ and signaling intermediates such as cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), renders β-cells and their glucose-stimulated insulin secretion (GSIS) amenable to optoengineering for drug-free control of blood sugar.

Scope of review

The molecular circuit of the GSIS in β-cells is described with emphasis on intermediates which are targetable for optical intervention. Various pharmacological agents modifying the release of insulin are reviewed along with their documented side effects. These are contrasted with optical approaches, which have already been employed for engineering β-cell function or are considered for future such applications. Principal obstacles are also discussed as the implementation of optogenetics is pondered for tissue engineering and biology applications of the pancreas.

Major Conclusions

Notable advances in optogenetic, optochemical and photopharmacological tools are rendering feasible the smart engineering of pancreatic cells and tissues with light-regulated function paving the way for novel solutions for addressing pancreatic pathologies including diabetes.