Histology of Type 1 Diabetes Pancreas

  • Abby Willcox
  • Kathleen M. GillespieEmail author
Part of the Methods in Molecular Biology book series (MIMB, volume 1433)


The islets of Langerhans play a critical role in glucose homeostasis. Islets are predominantly composed of insulin-secreting beta cells and glucagon-secreting alpha cells. In type 1 diabetes, the beta cells are destroyed by autoimmune destruction of insulin producing beta cells resulting in hyperglycemia. This is a gradual process, taking from several months to decades. Much of the beta cell destruction takes place during a silent, asymptomatic phase. Type 1 diabetes becomes clinically evident upon destruction of approximately 70–80 % of beta cell mass. Studying the decline in beta cell mass and the cells which are responsible for their demise is difficult as pancreatic biopsies are not feasible in patients with type 1 diabetes. The relative size of islets and their dispersed location throughout the pancreas means in vivo imaging of human islets is currently not manageable. At present, there are no validated biomarkers which accurately track the decline in beta cell mass in individuals who are at risk of developing, or have already developed, type 1 diabetes. Therefore, studies of pancreatic tissue retrieved at autopsy from donors with type 1 diabetes, or donors with high risk markers of type 1 diabetes such as circulating islet-associated autoantibodies, is currently the best method for studying beta cells and the associated inflammatory milieu in situ. In recent years, concerted efforts have been made to source such tissues for histological studies, enabling great insights to be made into the relationship between islets and the inflammatory insult to which they are subjected. This article describes in detail, a robust immunohistochemical method which can be utilized to study both recent, and archival human pancreatic tissue, in order to examine islet endocrine cells and the surrounding immune cells.


Type 1 diabetes Beta cell Alpha cell Islet Pancreas Histology Immunohistochemistry Insulitis DAB Antibody 



This work was supported by a Diabetes UK grant to K.M.G. and a European Foundation for the Study of Diabetes (EFSD) Fellowship to A.W.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Diabetes and Metabolism Unit, School of Clinical Sciences, Southmead HospitalUniversity of BristolBristolUK

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