Background: Plasma insulin levels are predominantly the product of the morphological mass of insulin producing beta cells in the pancreatic islets of Langerhans and the functional status of each of these beta cells. Thus, deficiency in either beta cell mass or function, or both, can lead to insufficient levels of insulin, resulting in hyperglycemia and diabetes. Nonetheless, the precise contribution of beta cell mass and function to the pathogenesis of diabetes as well as the underlying mechanisms are still unclear. In the past, this was largely due to the restricted number of technologies suitable for studying the scarcely accessible human beta cells. However, in recent years, a number of new platforms have been established to expand the available techniques and to facilitate deeper insight into the role of human beta cell mass and function as cause for diabetes and as potential treatment targets.
Scope of Review: This review discusses the current knowledge about contribution of human beta cell mass and function to different stages of type 1 and type 2 diabetes pathogenesis. Furthermore, it highlights standard and newly developed technological platforms for the study of human beta cell biology, which can be used to increase our understanding of beta cell mass and function in human glucose homeostasis.
Major Conclusions: In contrast to early disease models, recent studies suggest that in type 1 and type 2 diabetes impairment of beta cell function is an early feature of disease pathogenesis while a substantial decrease in beta cell mass occurs more closely to clinical manifestation. This suggests that, in addition to beta cell mass replacement for late stage therapies, the development of novel strategies for protection and recovery of beta cell function could be most promising for successful diabetes treatment and prevention. The use of today's developing and wide range of technologies and platforms for the study of human beta cells will allow for a more detailed investigation of the underlying mechanisms and will facilitate development of treatment approaches to specifically target human beta cell mass and function.[Hide abstract]
Background: Although the insulin-producing pancreatic β-cells are quite capable of adapting to both acute and chronic changes in metabolic demand, persistently high demand for insulin will ultimately lead to their progressive dysfunction and eventual loss. Recent and historical studies highlight the importance of ‘resting’ the β-cell as a means of preserving functional β-cell mass.
Scope of Review: We provide experimental evidence to highlight the remarkable plasticity for insulin production and secretion by the pancreatic β-cell alongside some clinical evidence that supports leveraging this unique ability to preserve β-cell function.
Major Conclusions: Treatment strategies for type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) targeted towards reducing the systemic metabolic burden, rather than demanding greater insulin production from an already beleaguered β-cell, should be emphasized to maintain endogenous insulin secretory function and delay the progression of T2DM.[Hide abstract]
Background: Diabetes mellitus is characterized by loss or dysfunction of insulin-producing β-cells in the pancreas, resulting in failure of blood glucose regulation and devastating secondary complications. Thus, β-cells are currently the prime target for cell-replacement and regenerative therapy. Triggering endogenous repair is a promising strategy to restore β-cell mass and normoglycemia in diabetic patients. Potential strategies include targeting specific β-cell subpopulations to increase proliferation or maturation. Alternatively, transdifferentiation of pancreatic islet cells (e.g. α- or δ-cells), extra-islet cells (acinar and ductal cells), hepatocytes, or intestinal cells into insulin-producing cells might improve glycemic control. To this end, it is crucial to systematically characterize and unravel the transcriptional program of all pancreatic cell types at the molecular level in homeostasis and disease. Furthermore, it is necessary to better determine the underlying mechanisms of β-cell maturation, maintenance, and dysfunction in diabetes, to identify and molecularly profile endocrine subpopulations with regenerative potential, and to translate the findings from mice to man. Recent approaches in single-cell biology started to illuminate heterogeneity and plasticity in the pancreas that might be targeted for β-cell regeneration in diabetic patients.
Scope of Review: This review discusses recent literature on single-cell analysis including single-cell RNA sequencing, single-cell mass cytometry, and flow cytometry of pancreatic cell types in the context of mechanisms of endogenous β-cell regeneration. We discuss new findings on the regulation of postnatal β-cell proliferation and maturation. We highlight how single-cell analysis recapitulates described principles of functional β-cell heterogeneity in animal models and adds new knowledge on the extent of β-cell heterogeneity in humans as well as its role in homeostasis and disease. Furthermore, we summarize the findings on cell subpopulations with regenerative potential that might enable the formation of new β-cells in diseased state. Finally, we review new data on the transcriptional program and function of rare pancreatic cell types and their implication in diabetes.
Major Conclusions: Novel, single-cell technologies offer high molecular resolution of cellular heterogeneity within the pancreas and provide information on processes and factors that govern β-cell homeostasis, proliferation, and maturation. Eventually, these technologies might lead to the characterization of cells with regenerative potential and unravel disease-associated changes in gene expression to identify cellular and molecular targets for therapy.[Hide abstract]
Background: Blood glucose levels are tightly controlled by the coordinated actions of hormone-producing endocrine cells that reside in pancreatic islets. Islet cell malfunction underlies diabetes development and progression. Due to the cellular heterogeneity within islets, it has been challenging to uncover how specific islet cells contribute to glucose homeostasis and diabetes pathogenesis. Recent advances in single-cell technologies and computational methods have opened up new avenues to resolve islet heterogeneity and study islet cell states in health and disease.
Scope of Review: In the past year, a multitude of studies have been published that used single-cell approaches to interrogate the transcriptome and proteome of the different islet cell types. Here, we summarize the conclusions of these studies, as well as discuss the technologies used and the challenges faced with computational analysis of single-cell data from islet studies.
Major Conclusions: By analyzing single islet cells from rodents and humans at different ages and disease states, the studies reviewed here have provided new insight into endocrine cell function and facilitated a high resolution molecular characterization of poorly understood processes, including regeneration, maturation, and diabetes pathogenesis. Gene expression programs and pathways identified in these studies pave the way for the discovery of new targets and approaches to prevent, monitor, and treat diabetes.[Hide abstract]
Background: Diabetes mellitus has reached epidemic proportions and requires new strategies for treatment. Unfortunately, the efficacy of treatment regimens on maintaining/re-gaining functional beta cell mass can, at the present, only be determined indirectly. Direct monitoring of beta cell mass is complicated by the anatomy of the endocrine pancreas, which consists of thousands to a million of discrete micro-organs, i.e. islets of Langerhans, which are scattered throughout the pancreas.
Scope of Review: Here, we review the progress made over the last years using the anterior chamber of the eye as a transplantation site for functional imaging of pancreatic islet cells in the living organism. Islets engrafted on the iris are vascularized and innervated and the cornea, serving as a natural body-window, allows for microscopic, non-invasive, longitudinal evaluation of islet/beta cell function and survival with single-cell resolution in health and disease.
Major Conclusions: Data provided by us and others demonstrate the high versatility of this imaging platform. The use of ‘reporter islets’ engrafted in the eye, reporting on the status of in situ endogenous islets in the pancreas of the same animal, allows the identification of key-events in the development and progression of diabetes. This will not only serve as a versatile research tool but will also lay the foundation for a personalized medicine approach and will serve as a screening platform for new drugs and/or treatment protocols. ‘Metabolic’ islet transplantation, in which islets engrafted in the eye replace the endogenous beta cells, will allow for the establishment of islet-specific transgenic models and ‘humanized’ mouse models as well as serving as the basis for a new clinical transplantation site for the cure of diabetes.[Hide abstract]
Background: MicroRNAs have emerged as important regulatory non-coding RNAs that tune cellular responses to physiological perturbations and disease conditions. An increasing body of literature underlines the important roles of miRNA function in pancreatic β-cells in response to metabolic, genetic and inflammatory stress. Lessons from genetic loss- and gain-of-function studies have implicated several highly expressed and evolutionary conserved miRNAs in stress signal modulation, resolution and buffering, thereby forming stabilizing miRNA networks that preserve β-cell differentiation, function, proliferation and cell survival.
Scope of Review: This review will summarize our current knowledge of how biologically relevant miRNAs regulate stress responses in pancreatic β-cells, discuss the challenges and opportunities associated with using secreted miRNAs as biomarkers and forecast how mechanistic knowledge of miRNA function can be exploited in developing miRNA-based therapeutics.
Major Conclusions: miRNAs play important roles in the function, differentiation, proliferation, and survival of pancreatic β-cells. Many miRNA families that are regulated by metabolic, genetic, and inflammatory stressors have been found to coordinate the adaptive responses of β-cells in vivo in conditions such as obesity and diabetes.[Hide abstract]
Background: Pancreatic β cell dysfunction and death are central in the pathogenesis of most if not all forms of diabetes. Understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying β cell failure is important to develop β cell protective approaches.
Scope of Review: Here we review the role of endoplasmic reticulum stress and dysregulated endoplasmic reticulum stress signaling in β cell failure in monogenic and polygenic forms of diabetes. There is substantial evidence for the presence of endoplasmic reticulum stress in β cells in type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Direct evidence for the importance of this stress response is provided by an increasing number of monogenic forms of diabetes. In particular, mutations in the PERK branch of the unfolded protein response provide insight into its importance for human β cell function and survival. The knowledge gained from different rodent models is reviewed. More disease- and patient-relevant models, using human induced pluripotent stem cells differentiated into β cells, will further advance our understanding of pathogenic mechanisms. Finally, we review the therapeutic modulation of endoplasmic reticulum stress and signaling in β cells.
Major Conclusions: Pancreatic β cells are sensitive to excessive endoplasmic reticulum stress and dysregulated eIF2α phosphorylation, as indicated by transcriptome data, monogenic forms of diabetes and pharmacological studies. This should be taken into consideration when devising new therapeutic approaches for diabetes.[Hide abstract]
Background: The recent genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of Type 2 Diabetes (T2D) have identified the pancreatic β-cell as the culprit in the pathogenesis of the disease. Mitochondrial metabolism plays a crucial role in the processes controlling release of insulin and β-cell mass. This notion implies that mechanisms controlling mitochondrial function have the potential to play a decisive pathogenetic role in T2D.
Scope of Review: This article reviews studies demonstrating that there is indeed mitochondrial dysfunction in islets in T2D, and that GWAS have identified a variant in the gene encoding transcription factor B1 mitochondrial (TFB1M), predisposing to T2D due to mitochondrial dysfunction and impaired insulin secretion. Mechanistic studies of the nature of this pathogenetic link, as well as of other mitochondrial transcription factors, are described.
Major Conclusions: Based on this, it is argued that transcription and translation in mitochondria are critical processes determining mitochondrial function in β-cells in health and disease.[Hide abstract]
Background: The hormone leptin is an important regulator of metabolic homeostasis, able to inhibit food intake and increase energy expenditure. Leptin can also independently lower blood glucose levels, particularly in hyperglycemic models of leptin or insulin deficiency. Despite significant efforts and relevance to diabetes, the mechanisms by which leptin acts to regulate blood glucose levels are not fully understood.
Scope of Review: Here we assess literature relevant to the glucose lowering effects of leptin. Leptin receptors are widely expressed in multiple cell types, and we describe both peripheral and central effects of leptin that may be involved in lowering blood glucose. In addition, we summarize the potential clinical application of leptin in regulating glucose homeostasis.
Major Conclusions: Leptin exerts a plethora of metabolic effects on various tissues including suppressing production of glucagon and corticosterone, increasing glucose uptake, and inhibiting hepatic glucose output. A more in-depth understanding of the mechanisms of the glucose-lowering actions of leptin may reveal new strategies to treat metabolic disorders.[Hide abstract]
Background: Epigenetics, in the broadest sense, governs all aspects of the life of any multicellular organism, as it controls how differentiated cells arrive at their unique phenotype during development and differentiation, despite having a uniform (with some exceptions such as T-cells and germ cells) genetic make-up. The endocrine pancreas is no exception. Transcriptional regulators and epigenetic modifiers shape the differentiation of the five major endocrine cell types from their common precursor in the fetal pancreatic bud. Beyond their role in cell differentiation, interactions of the organism with the environment are also often encoded into permanent or semi-permanent epigenetic marks and affect cellular behavior and organismal health. Epigenetics is defined as any heritable – at least through one mitotic cell division – change in phenotype or trait that is not the result of a change in genomic DNA sequence, and it forms the basis that mediates the environmental impact on diabetes susceptibility and islet function.
Scope of Review: We will summarize the impact of epigenetic regulation on islet cell development, maturation, function, and pathophysiology. We will briefly recapitulate the major epigenetic marks and their relationship to gene activity, and outline novel strategies to employ targeted epigenetic modifications as a tool to improve islet cell function.
Major Conclusions: The improved understanding of the epigenetic underpinnings of islet cell differentiation, function and breakdown, as well as the development of innovative tools for their manipulation, is key to islet cell biology and the discovery of novel approaches to therapies for islet cell failure.[Hide abstract]