Insulin Oscillation - Mechanism


Pulsatile insulin secretion from individual beta cells is driven by oscillation of the calcium concentration in the cells. In beta cells lacking contact, the periodicity of these oscillations is rather variable (2-10 min). However, within an islet of Langerhans the oscillations become synchronized by electrical coupling between closely located beta cells that are connected by gap junctions, and the periodicity is more uniform (3-6 min).

Pulsatile insulin release from the entire pancreas requires that secretion is synchronized between 1 million islets within a 25 cm long organ. Much like the cardiac pacemaker, the pancreas is connected to cranial nerve 10, and others, but the oscillations are accomplished by intrapancreatic neurons and do not require neural input from the brain. It is not entirely clear which neural factors account for this synchronization but ATP as well as the gasses NO and CO may be involved. The effect of these neural factors is to induce sudden dramatic elevation of calcium in the cytoplasm by releasing calcium from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) of the beta cells. This elevation results in release of ATP from the beta cells. The released ATP in turn binds to receptors on neighbouring beta cells leading to a regenerative wave of rapid calcium elevation among the cells within the islet. This signal is believed to entrain pulsatile insulin release from the islets into a common pancreatic rhythm.

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