A possible role for fibroblasts in promoting the survival and function of islet B cells in tissue culture was examined by the addition of fibroblasts from a mouse embryo cell line (3T3-L2) to islet cell monolayer cultures prepared from newborn rat pancreases. Co-culture of islet cells with fibroblasts significantly increased the recovery of insulin in medium and cells after 7 days of culture in medium supplemented with 10% serum, and prevented the deterioration of islet cells cultured in serum-free medium. Similarly, serum-free medium, conditioned by cultures of either 3T3-L2 fibroblasts or fibroblasts freshly isolated from newborn rat pancreases, maintained the release and content of insulin in islet cell monolayer cultures at levels four- to eightfold higher than in control serum-free medium. Serum-free, fibroblast-conditioned medium also enhanced the survival of intact islets maintained in free-floating culture for 28 days. The active factor(s) in fibroblast-conditioned medium has a high molecular weight and is heat-stable. We conclude that fibroblastic cells produce a macromolecular factor(s) capable of enhancing the survival of functional islet B cells in tissue culture.

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