Beta-cell mass regulation represents a critical issue for understanding diabetes, a disease characterized by a near-absolute (type 1) or relative (type 2) deficiency in the number of pancreatic beta cells. The number of islet beta cells present at birth is mainly generated by the proliferation and differentiation of pancreatic progenitor cells, a process called neogenesis. Shortly after birth, beta-cell neogenesis stops and a small proportion of cycling beta cells can still expand the cell number to compensate for increased insulin demands, albeit at a slow rate. The low capacity for self-replication in the adult is too limited to result in a significant regeneration following extensive tissue injury. Likewise, chronically increased metabolic demands can lead to beta-cell failure to compensate. Neogenesis from progenitor cells inside or outside islets represents a more potent mechanism leading to robust expansion of the beta-cell mass, but it may require external stimuli. For therapeutic purposes, advantage could be taken from the surprising differentiation plasticity of adult pancreatic cells and possibly also from stem cells. Recent studies have demonstrated that it is feasible to regenerate and expand the beta-cell mass by the application of hormones and growth factors like glucagon-like peptide-1, gastrin, epidermal growth factor, and others. Treatment with these external stimuli can restore a functional beta-cell mass in diabetic animals, but further studies are required before it can be applied to humans.
Physiological Reviews – The American Physiological Society
Published: Oct 1, 2005
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