In turn, Kuruvilla's team found that in mutant mice, the removal of the sympathetic neurons resulted in deformities in the architecture of the pancreatic islet cells and defects in insulin secretion and glucose metabolism.
Pancreatic islets are highly organized functional micro-organs with a defined size, shape and distinctive arrangement of endocrine cells. It's this marriage of form and function that result in cells clustered close together, that creates greater, more efficient islet cell function.
However, the mutant mice, with their sympathetic neurons removed, had islet formations that were misshapen, sported lesions and developed in a patchy, uneven manner. Because of their dysfunctional islet cell development, postnatal mice did not secrete enough insulin when confronted with high glucose, and had high blood glucose levels as a result. Increased levels of blood glucose in humans is a hallmark of diabetes.
It's known in neuroscience that the neurons in question from the sympathetic nervous system control the body's "flight or fight" response and communicate with connected tissues by releasing a chemical messenger called norepinephrine. The release of norepinephrine also plays an important role in the development and maturation of islets, said Kuruvilla.
Using sympathetic neurons and islet cells grown together in a culture dish, the researchers observed that islet cells move toward the nerves and identified norepinephrine as the nerve signal that causes the movement of the islet cells.
"Seeing how these islet cells were responding to sympathetic neurons both in a dish and the effects of removing the nerves in a whole animal on islet shape and functions were pretty remarkable," said Borden, lead author of the paper. "It was clear to us that sympathetic neurons were key to how islets were developing, something no one else had shown."'/>"/>
|Contact: Latarsha Gatlin|
Johns Hopkins University