, Volume 55, Issue 12, pp 3252-3261

3-D imaging and illustration of the perfusive mouse islet sympathetic innervation and its remodelling in injury

Abstract

Aims/hypothesis

Sympathetic nerves influence islet hormone levels in the circulation. Insights into islet sympathetic innervation and its remodelling in diabetes may impact future therapeutics. However, standard immunohistochemistry and microtome-based microscopy cannot provide an integral view of the islet neurovascular complex. We prepared transparent islet specimens to investigate the spatial relationship between sympathetic nerves, blood vessels and islet cells in normal, streptozotocin-injected and non-obese diabetic mouse models.

Methods

Cardiac perfusion of fluorescent lectin was used to label pancreatic blood vessels. Tyrosine hydroxylase and nuclear staining were used to reveal islet sympathetic innervation and microstructure. Optical clearing (i.e. use of immersion solution to reduce scattering) was applied to enable 3-dimensional confocal microscopy of islets to visualise the sympathetic neurovascular complex in space.

Results

Unlike previously reported morphology, we observed perfusive intra-islet, perivascular sympathetic innervation, in addition to peri-islet contacts of sympathetic nerves with alpha cells and sympathetic fibres encircling the adjacent arterioles. The intra-islet axons became markedly prominent in streptozotocin-injected mice (2 weeks after injection). In non-obese diabetic mice, lymphocytic infiltration remodelled the peri-islet sympathetic axons in early insulitis.

Conclusions/interpretation

We have established an imaging approach to reveal the spatial features of mouse islet sympathetic innervation. The neurovascular complex and sympathetic nerve–alpha cell contact suggest that sympathetic nerves modulate islet hormone secretion through blood vessels, in addition to acting directly on alpha cells. In islet injuries, sympathetic nerves undergo different remodelling in response to different pathophysiological cues.

P.J. Pasricha and S.-C. Tang contributed equally to this work.