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Young Capillaries Can Rejuvenate Older Beta Cells

Targeting inflammation and fibrosis in the small blood vessels of the pancreatic islets may offer a new way of treatment….

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The finding challenges prevailing views on the causes of age-dependent impaired glucose balance regulation, a condition that often develops into type 2 diabetes. The international research team behind the study now suggests that targeting inflammation and fibrosis in the small blood vessels of the pancreatic islets may offer a new way of treatment for age-dependent dysregulation of blood glucose levels.

Per-Olof Berggren at the Rolf Luft Research Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, who led the study added that, “This is an unexpected, but highly important finding, which we expect will have a significant impact on diabetes research in the future.” “The results indicate that beta cell function does not decline with age, and instead suggest that islet function is threatened by an age-dependent impairment of vessels that support them with oxygen and nutrients.”

Aging may lead to a progressive decline in glucose regulation which may contribute to diabetes development. Generally, it has been assumed that this is due to reduced capacity of the beta cell to secrete insulin or multiply.

In the study the researchers challenged the view that the age-dependent impairment in glucose homeostasis is solely due to intrinsic, dysfunction of islet cells, and hypothesized that it is instead affected by systemic aging factors.

In marked contrast to the widely held notion that the insulin-producing pancreatic beta cell loses function with wear and tear, the researchers now show that mouse and human beta cells are fully functional at advanced age. When replacing the islet vasculature in aged islet grafts with young capillaries, the investigators found that the islets were rejuvenated and glucose homeostasis fully restored.

Per-Olof Berggren stated that, “While expanding beta cell mass may still be desirable for future diabetes therapy, improving the local environment of the otherwise healthy aged beta cell could prevent age-associated deterioration in glucose homeostasis and thereby promote healthy aging, which is conceptually novel and highly exciting.”

Practice Pearls:

  • Young capillary vessels can rejuvenate aged pancreatic islets
  • Inflammation and fibrosis in the small blood vessels of the pancreatic islets may offer a new way of treatment for age-dependent dysregulation of blood glucose levels.
  • When replacing the islet vasculature in aged islet grafts with young capillaries, the investigators found that the islets were rejuvenated and glucose homeostasis fully restored.

Published in the journal PNAS; Young Capillary Vessels Rejuvinate Aged Pancreatic Islets, Joana Almaça, Judith Molina, Rafael Arrojo, Rafael Arrojo e Drigo, Midhat H. Abdulreda, Won Bae Jeon, Per-Olof Berggren, Alejandro Caicedo, and Hong Gil Nam, PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1414053111, published online 17 November 2014.