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Insulin-secreting beta-cells are heterogeneous in their regulation of hormone release. While long known, recent technological advances and new markers have allowed the identification of novel subpopulations, improving our understanding of the molecular basis for heterogeneity. This includes specific subpopulations with distinct functional characteristics, developmental programs, abilities to proliferate in response to metabolic or developmental cues, and resistance to immune-mediated damage. Importantly, these subpopulations change in disease or aging, including in human disease. Although discovering new beta-cell subpopulations has substantially advanced our understanding of islet biology, a point of caution is that these characteristics have often necessarily been identified in single beta-cells dissociated from the islet. beta-Cells in the islet show extensive communication with each other via gap junctions and with other cell types via diffusible chemical messengers. As such, how these different subpopulations contribute to in situ islet function, including during plasticity, is not well understood. We will discuss recent findings revealing functional beta-cell subpopulations in the intact islet, the underlying basis for these identified subpopulations, and how these subpopulations may influence in situ islet function. Furthermore, we will discuss the outlook for emerging technologies to gain further insight into the role of subpopulations in in situ islet function.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





537 - 547


Biomarkers/metabolism Cell Communication *Cell Differentiation *Cell Proliferation Gap Junctions/metabolism Humans Insulin-Secreting Cells/*cytology/metabolism Islets of Langerhans/cytology/metabolism Optogenetics Paracrine Communication Single-Cell Analysis