Insulin secretion from the pancreas is pulsatile. The precise site and function of the pacemaker that regulates insulin periodicity in humans have not been determined. We isolated human pancreatic islets from five cadaver organ donors by collagenase digestion and density gradient purification. After 24 h of culture in CMRL-1066 medium at 37°C, aliquots of 200 islets were perifused (1 ml/min for 120 min) with glucose and other secretagogues in oxygenated Krebs-Ringer bicarbonate solution at 37°C. Samples for insulin measurement were taken every minute, and insulin secretion was analyzed by the Clifton and Steiner cycle detection technique. With 3.3 mM glucose (n = 17), insulin oscillations were demonstrated with a periodicity of 9.8 ± 0.1 min (means ± SE), mean amplitude was 16.8 ± 1.8 pM, and overall mean insulin release was 43.8 ± 4.2 pM. With 16.7 mM glucose (n = 14), no change of insulin periodicity was observed (10.2 ± 0.9 min), mean amplitude was 41.4 ± 10.2 pM (P < 0.01 vs. 3.3 mM glucose), and mean insulin release was 118.2 ± 19.2 pM (P < 0.01 vs. 3.3 mM glucose). Both at 3.3 and 16.7 mM glucose, the addition of 1.4 mM glucagon (n = 4), 15 mM arginine (n = 4), or 100 µg/ml tolbutamide (n = 4) caused no change of insulin periodicity but enhanced mean amplitude and mean insulin release compared with glucose alone. These results show that a pacemaker is located within the islets that regulates pulsatile insulin secretion in humans; the pacemaker is remarkably stable, because its periodicity is not affected by factors altering insulin secretion.

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