Sex-dependent intra-islet structural rearrangements affecting alpha-to-beta cell interactions lead to adaptive enhancements of Ca2+ dynamics in prediabetic beta cells

Montse Visa, Per-Olof Berggren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Prediabetic pancreatic beta cells can adapt their function to maintain normoglycaemia for a limited period of time, after which diabetes mellitus will manifest upon beta cell exhaustion. Understanding sex-specific beta cell compensatory mechanisms and their failure in prediabetes (impaired glucose tolerance) is crucial for early disease diagnosis and individualised treatment. Our aims were as follows: (1) to determine the key time points of the progression from beta cells’ functional adaptations to their failure in vivo; and (2) to mechanistically explain in vivo sex-specific beta cell compensatory mechanisms and their failure in prediabetes.

Islets from male and female transgenic Ins1CreERT2-GCaMP3 mice were transplanted into the anterior chamber of the eye of 10- to 12-week-old sex-matched C57BL/6J mice. Recipient mice were fed either a control diet (CD) or western diet (WD) for a maximum of 4 months. Metabolic variables were evaluated monthly. Beta cell cytoplasmic free calcium concentration ([Ca2+]i) dynamics were monitored in vivo longitudinally by image fluorescence of the GCaMP3 reporter islets. Global islet beta cell [Ca2+]i dynamics in line with single beta cell [Ca2+]i analysis were used for beta cell coordination studies. The glucagon receptor antagonist L-168,049 (4 mmol/l) was applied topically to the transplanted eyes to evaluate in vivo the effect of glucagon on beta cell [Ca2+]idynamics. Human islets from non-diabetic women and men were cultured for 24 h in either a control medium or high-fat/high-glucose medium in the presence or absence of the glucagon receptor antagonist L-168,049. [Ca2+]i dynamics of human islets were evaluated in vitro after 1 h exposure to Fura-10.

Mice fed a WD for 1 month displayed increased beta cell [Ca2+]i dynamics linked to enhanced insulin secretion as a functional compensatory mechanism in prediabetes. Recruitment of inactive beta cells in WD-fed mice explained the improved beta cell function adaptation observed in vivo; this occurred in a sex-specific manner. Mechanistically, this was attributable to an intra-islet structural rearrangement involving alpha cells. These sex-dependent cytoarchitecture reorganisations, observed in both mice and humans, induced enhanced paracrine input from adjacent alpha cells, adjusting the glucose setpoint and amplifying the insulin secretion pathway. When WD feeding was prolonged, female mice maintained the adaptive mechanism due to their intrinsically high proportion of alpha cells. In males, [Ca2+]i dynamics progressively declined subsequent to glucose stimulation while insulin secretion continue to increase, suggesting uncoordinated beta cell function as an early sign of diabetes.

We identified increased coordination of [Ca2+]i dynamics as a beta cell functional adaptation mechanisms in prediabetes. Importantly, we uncovered the mechanisms by which sex-dependent beta cell [Ca2+]i dynamics coordination is orchestrated by an intra-islet structure reorganisation increasing the paracrine input from alpha cells on beta cell function. Moreover, we identified reduced [Ca2+]i dynamics coordination in response to glucose as an early sign of diabetes preceding beta cell secretory dysfunction, with males being more vulnerable. Alterations in coordination capacity of [Ca2+]i dynamics may thus serve as an early marker for beta cell failure in prediabetes.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
Issue number6
Early online date30 May 2024
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Jun 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2024.

Data Access Statement

The data generated in this study are available from the corresponding authors on reasonable request.


  • Alpha cell input
  • Beta cell function
  • Ca2+ imaging
  • Prediabetes
  • Sex differences


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