Chapter V. Beta-Cell Replacement

Rev Diabet Stud, 2012, 9(4):407-416 DOI 10.1900/RDS.2012.9.407

Islet Neogenesis: A Possible Pathway for Beta-Cell Replenishment

Susan Bonner-Weir, Lili Guo, Wan-Chun Li, Limor Ouziel-Yahalom, Philippe A. Lysy, Gordon C. Weir, Arun Sharma

Joslin Diabetes Center, Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, 1 Joslin Place, Boston, MA 02215
Address correspondence to: Susan Bonner-Weir, e-mail

Manuscript submitted December 16, 2012; accepted January 21, 2013.

Keywords: diabetes, islet, insulin, pancreatic beta-cell, neogenesis, regeneration, replication


Diabetes, particularly type 1 diabetes, results from the lack of pancreatic β-cells. β-cell replenishment can functionally reverse diabetes, but two critical challenges face the field: 1. protection of the new β-cells from autoimmunity and allorejection, and 2. development of β-cells that are readily available and reliably functional. This chapter will examine the potential of endogenous replenishment of pancreatic β-cells as a possible therapeutic tool if autoimmunity could be blunted. Two pathways for endogenous replenishment exist in the pancreas: replication and neogenesis, defined as the formation of new islet cells from pancreatic progenitor/stem cells. These pathways of β-cell expansion are not mutually exclusive and both occur in embryonic development, in postnatal growth, and in response to some injuries. Since the β-cell population is dramatically reduced in the pancreas of type 1 diabetes patients, with only a small fraction of the β-cells surviving years after onset, replication of preexisting β-cells would not be a reasonable start for replenishment. However, induction of neogenesis could provide a starting population that could be further expanded by replication. It is widely accepted that neogenesis occurs in the initial embryonic formation of the endocrine pancreas, but its occurrence anytime after birth has become controversial because of discordant data from lineage tracing experiments. However, the concept was built upon many observations from different models and species over many years. Herein, we discuss the role of neogenesis in normal growth and regeneration, as learned from rodent models, followed by an analysis of what has been found in humans.

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