The Islets of Langerhans

Volume 654 of the series Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology pp 1-19


Microscopic Anatomy of the Human Islet of Langerhans

  • Peter In’t VeldAffiliated withDepartment of Pathology, Vrije Universiteit Brussel Email author 
  • , Miriam MarichalAffiliated withDepartment of Pathology, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

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Human islets of Langerhans are complex micro-organs responsible for maintaining glucose homeostasis. Islets contain five different endocrine cell types, which react to changes in plasma nutrient levels with the release of a carefully balanced mixture of islet hormones into the portal vein. Each endocrine cell type is characterized by its own typical secretory granule morphology, different peptide hormone content, and specific endocrine, paracrine, and neuronal interactions. During development, a cascade of transcription factors determines the formation of the endocrine pancreas and its constituting islet cell types. Differences in ontogeny between the ventrally derived head section and the dorsally derived head, body, and tail section are responsible for differences in innervation, blood supply, and endocrine composition. Islet cells show a close topographical relationship to the islet vasculature, and are supplied with a five to tenfold higher blood flow than the exocrine compartment. Islet microanatomy is disturbed in patients with type 1 diabetes, with a marked reduction in β-cell content and the presence of inflammatory infiltrates. Histopathological lesions in type 2 diabetes are less pathognomonic with a more limited reduction in β-cell content and occasional deposition of amyloid in the islet interstitial space.


Pathology Type 1 diabetes Type 2 diabetes Morphology Anatomy Insulitis Amyloid β-cell α-cell δ-cell PP cell Autoimmunity Innervation Vasculature Non-endocrine cells