Capillary contact points determine beta cell polarity, control secretion and are disrupted in the db/db mouse model of diabetes

Dillon Jevon, Louise Cottle, Nicole Hallahan, Richard Harwood, Jaswinder S. Samra, Anthony J. Gill, Thomas Loudovaris, Helen E. Thomas, Peter Thorn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aims/hypothesis: Almost all beta cells contact one capillary and insulin granule fusion is targeted to this region. However, there are reports of beta cells contacting more than one capillary. We therefore set out to determine the proportion of beta cells with multiple contacts and the impact of this on cell structure and function. Methods: We used pancreatic slices in mice and humans to better maintain cell and islet structure than in isolated islets. Cell structure was assayed using immunofluorescence and 3D confocal microscopy. Live-cell two-photon microscopy was used to map granule fusion events in response to glucose stimulation. Results: We found that 36% and 22% of beta cells in islets from mice and humans, respectively, have separate contact with two capillaries. These contacts establish a distinct form of cell polarity with multiple basal regions. Both capillary contact points are enriched in presynaptic scaffold proteins, and both are a target for insulin granule fusion. Cells with two capillary contact points have a greater capillary contact area and secrete more, with analysis showing that, independent of the number of contact points, increased contact area is correlated with increased granule fusion. Using db/db mice as a model for type 2 diabetes, we observed changes in islet capillary organisation that significantly reduced total islet capillary surface area, and reduced area of capillary contact in single beta cells. Conclusions/interpretation: Beta cells that contact two capillaries are a significant subpopulation of beta cells within the islet. They have a distinct form of cell polarity and both contact points are specialised for secretion. The larger capillary contact area of cells with two contact points is correlated with increased secretion. In the db/db mouse, changes in capillary structure impact beta cell capillary contact, implying that this is a new factor contributing to disease progression. Graphical Abstract: (Figure presented.)

Original languageEnglish (US)
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • Beta cell
  • Diabetes
  • Human
  • Insulin
  • Islet
  • Polarity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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