The pancreatic islet is a functional microorgan involved in maintaining normoglycemia through regulated secretion of insulin and other hormones. Extracellular glucose stimulates insulin secretion from islet beta cells through an increase in redox state, which can be measured by NAD(P)H autofluorescence. Glucose concentrations over approximately 7 mM generate synchronous oscillations in beta cell intracellular Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]i), which lead to pulsatile insulin secretion. Prevailing models assume that the pancreatic islet acts as a functional syncytium, and the whole islet [Ca2+]i response has been modeled in terms of islet bursting and pacemaker models. To test these models, we developed a microfluidic device capable of partially stimulating an islet, while allowing observation of the NAD(P)H and [Ca2+]i responses. We show that beta cell [Ca2+]i oscillations occur only within regions stimulated with more than approximately 6.6 mM glucose. Furthermore, we show that tolbutamide, an antagonist of the ATP-sensitive K+ channel, allows these oscillations to travel farther into the nonstimulated regions of the islet. Our approach shows that the extent of Ca2+ propagation across the islet depends on a delicate interaction between the degree of coupling and the extent of ATP-sensitive K+-channel activation and illustrates an experimental paradigm that will have utility for many other biological systems.
Copyright 2004 The National Academy of Sciencs of the USA