Gap junction coupling and islet delta-cell function in health and disease
Miranda C., Begum M., Vergari E., Briant LJB.
The pancreatic islets contain beta-cells and alpha-cells, which are responsible for secreting two principal gluco-regulatory hormones; insulin and glucagon, respectively. However, they also contain delta-cells, a relatively sparse cell type that secretes somatostatin (SST). These cells have a complex morphology allowing them to establish an extensive communication network throughout the islet, despite their scarcity. Delta-cells are electrically excitable cells, and SST secretion is released in a glucose- and KATP-dependent manner. SST hyperpolarises the alpha-cell membrane and suppresses exocytosis. In this way, islet SST potently inhibits glucagon release. Recent studies investigating the activity of delta-cells have revealed they are electrically coupled to beta-cells via gap junctions, suggesting the delta-cell is more than just a paracrine inhibitor. In this Review, we summarize delta-cell morphology, function, and the role of SST signalling for regulating islet hormonal output. A distinguishing feature of this Review is that we attempt to use the discovery of this gap junction pathway, together with what is already known about delta-cells, to reframe the role of these cells in both health and disease. In particular, we argue that the discovery of gap junction communication between delta-cells and beta-cells provides new insights into the contribution of delta-cells to the islet hormonal defects observed in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. This reappraisal of the delta-cell is important as it may offer novel insights into how the physiology of this cell can be utilised to restore islet function in diabetes.