Glucose regulates rat beta cell number through age-dependent effects on beta cell survival and proliferation.

Zerihun Assefa, Astrid Marie-Therese Lavens, Christophe Steyaert, Geert Stangé, Geert Martens, Zhidong Ling, Karine Hellemans, Daniel Pipeleers

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7 Citations (Scopus)


Glucose effects on beta cell survival and DNA-synthesis suggest a role as regulator of beta cell mass but data on beta cell numbers are lacking. We examined outcome of these influences on the number of beta cells isolated at different growth stages in their population.

Beta cells from neonatal, young-adult and old rats were cultured serum-free for 15 days. Their number was counted by automated whole-well imaging distinguishing influences on cell survival and on proliferative activity.

Elevated glucose (10-20 versus 5 mmol/l) increased the number of living beta cells from 8-week rats to 30%, following a time- and concentration-dependent recruitment of quiescent cells into DNA-synthesis; a glucokinase-activator lowered the threshold but did not raise total numbers of glucose-recruitable cells. No glucose-induced increase occurred in beta cells from 40-week rats. Neonatal beta cells doubled in number at 5 mmol/l involving a larger activated fraction that did not increase at higher concentrations; however, their higher susceptibility to glucose toxicity at 20 mmol/l resulted in 20% lower living cell numbers than at start. None of the age groups exhibited a repetitively proliferating subpopulation.

Chronically elevated glucose levels increased the number of beta cells from young-adult but not from old rats; they interfered with expansion of neonatal beta cells and reduced their number. These effects are attributed to age-dependent differences in basal and glucose-induced proliferative activity and in cellular susceptibility to glucose toxicity. They also reflect age-dependent variations in the functional heterogeneity of the rat beta cell population.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere85174
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • beta cell
  • proliferation

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