Electrical activity of a pancreatic islet is globally activated under high glucose conditions and globally suppressed under low glucose conditions. This homogeneous behavior occurs due to the highly-coupled nature of the islet, despite heterogeneity of individual β-cells. Using hyperpolarization to silence β-cell activity, studies have shown that small subpopulations of highly functional β-cells can disproportionately control whole islet dynamics. Using a computational model of islet electrophysiology, we studied the theoretical basis of how small highly functional subpopulations of β-cells may regulate the global activity of islets. We modeled metabolic activity of β-cells as a continuous distribution and as a bimodal distribution. Then, in each case, we silenced the highest metabolically active cells and quantified the response of the islet. These highly metabolic cells (GKHigh) were silenced by hyperpolarization, similarly to experimental data. Only under a bimodal distribution, did a small (10%) population of GKHigh cells dramatically reduce islet activity, as experimentally demonstrated. Next, a simulation was run without GKHigh cells present in the islet. When GKHigh cells were absent, the islet remained globally active and had near normal duty cycle, suggesting that these cells are unnecessary for maintaining islet dynamics. Similarly, we investigated another functional subpopulation, β-cells with higher Ca2+ oscillation frequencies which could potentially act as pacemaker cells. When simulating the absence of 10% of these higher frequency cells, the global frequency of the islet was not significantly altered. These results indicate that small highly functional subpopulations are unable to drive islet function under normal conditions, but when targeted under hyperpolarizing conditions may cause dysfunction.


J.M. Dwulet: None. R.K. Benninger: None.


National Institutes of Health (R01DK106412, R01DK102950)

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