, Volume 137, Issue 6, pp 801-810
Date: 05 Feb 2012

Different susceptibility of rat pancreatic alpha and beta cells to hypoxia

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Insulin-producing beta cells are known to be highly susceptible to hypoxia, which is a major factor in their destruction after pancreatic islet transplantation. However, whether the glucagon-producing pancreatic islet alpha cells are sensitive to hypoxia is not known. Our objective was to compare the sensitivity of alpha and beta cells to hypoxia. Isolated rat pancreatic islets were exposed to hypoxia (1% oxygen, 94% N2, 5% CO2) for 3 days. The viability of the alpha and beta cells, as well as the stimulus-specific secretion of glucagon and insulin, was evaluated. A quantitative analysis of the proportion of beta to alpha cells indicated that, under normoxic conditions, islet cells were composed mainly of beta cells (87 ± 3%) with only 13 ± 3% alpha cells. Instead, hypoxia treatment significantly increased the proportion of alpha cells (40 ± 13%) and decreased the proportion of beta cells to 60 ± 13%. Using the fluorescent TUNEL assay we found that only a few percent of beta cells and alpha cells were apoptotic in normoxia. In contrast, hypoxia induced an abundance of apoptotic beta cells (61 ± 22%) and had no effect on the level of apoptosis in alpha cells. In conclusion, this study demonstrates that hypoxia results in severe functional abnormality in both beta and alpha cells while alpha cells display significantly decreased rate of apoptosis compared to intensive apoptotic injury of beta cells. These findings have implications for the understanding of the possible role of hypoxia in the pathophysiology of diabetes.