Could Beta Cell Age and Differentiation Play a Role in the Development of Diabetes?

The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is yet unknown. Researchers have a good understanding of how type 1 diabetes works and impacts the body, but not of the cellular intricacies that contribute to the development of the disease. A recent study examined the age and role of beta cells within pancreatic islets to better understand proliferation and function within the organ.

The study examined zebrafish and found that younger beta cells replicate more quickly than older beta cells, but they are less functional in terms of glucose responsiveness. As cells mature, they synchronize their proliferation and function.  In addition, within the pancreas differentiated cells are responsible for both organ growth and function, but it is yet undetermined whether certain cells make specific contributions to one factor or the other.  Organs such as the brain operate differently when it comes to increases in cellular mass and differentiation of cell function.

Through closer examination, researchers found that in the pancreas, beta cells differentiate according to the location in different parts of the embryo. In post-embryonic stages of development, beta cells from these different lineages are all brought together. This may also impact glucose responsiveness and the ability to balance insulin production with the energy necessary to support cell division. More research is necessary to determine exactly how proliferation and function affect heterogeneity in human beta cells and pancreatic islets.

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