AIMS/HYPOTHESIS - Tissue-resident macrophages sense the microenvironment and respond by producing signals that act locally to maintain a stable tissue state. It is now known that pancreatic islets contain their own unique resident macrophages, which have been shown to promote proliferation of the insulin-secreting beta cell. However, it is unclear how beta cells communicate with islet-resident macrophages. Here we hypothesised that islet macrophages sense changes in islet activity by detecting signals derived from beta cells.
METHODS - To investigate how islet-resident macrophages respond to cues from the microenvironment, we generated mice expressing a genetically encoded Ca indicator in myeloid cells. We produced living pancreatic slices from these mice and used them to monitor macrophage responses to stimulation of acinar, neural and endocrine cells.
RESULTS - Islet-resident macrophages expressed functional purinergic receptors, making them exquisite sensors of interstitial ATP levels. Indeed, islet-resident macrophages responded selectively to ATP released locally from beta cells that were physiologically activated with high levels of glucose. Because ATP is co-released with insulin and is exclusively secreted by beta cells, the activation of purinergic receptors on resident macrophages facilitates their awareness of beta cell secretory activity.
CONCLUSIONS/INTERPRETATION - Our results indicate that islet macrophages detect ATP as a proxy signal for the activation state of beta cells. Sensing beta cell activity may allow macrophages to adjust the secretion of factors to promote a stable islet composition and size.