To investigate molecular mechanisms controlling islet vascularization and revascularization after transplantation, we examined pancreatic expression of three families of angiogenic factors and their receptors in differentiating endocrine cells and adult islets. Using intravital lectin labeling, we demonstrated that development of islet microvasculature and establishment of islet blood flow occur concomitantly with islet morphogenesis. Our genetic data indicate that vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-A is a major regulator of islet vascularization and revascularization of transplanted islets. In spite of normal pancreatic insulin content and beta-cell mass, mice with beta-cell-reduced VEGF-A expression had impaired glucose-stimulated insulin secretion. By vascular or diffusion delivery of beta-cell secretagogues to islets, we showed that reduced insulin output is not a result of beta-cell dysfunction but rather caused by vascular alterations in islets. Taken together, our data indicate that the microvasculature plays an integral role in islet function. Factors modulating VEGF-A expression may influence islet vascularity and, consequently, the amount of insulin delivered into the systemic circulation.
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