The electric activity of whole islets of Langerhans was monitored for the first time in this study. Measurements were made from single islets isolated from mice, hamsters, gerbils, and rats by means of external electrodes. Well-structured synchronized potential spikes up to 0.5 mV in amplitude with a stable frequency of 0.5–2 Hz were measured. Spike generation had a glucose concentration threshold. In the physiological range of each animal species, firing rate was an approximate linear function of glucose concentration. At low glucose concentrations, firing became intermittent, i.e., in bursts, while in the physiological range and above, firing was typically continuous. Simultaneous measurements from two locations on an islet indicate that the measured activity reflects the propagation of an excitation wave throughout the islet. This, together with signal synchronization, suggests that the islets contain a functional pacemaker (FPM) from which excitation propagates by means of gap junctions to the rest of the islet cells (mostly β-cells). Thus, the electric characteristics of the individual β-cells are functionally masked so that the islet acts as a single functional unit. In view of the dependency of insulin secretion on the islet's electric activity, the islet glucose-insulin dose-response characteristics must be determined by those of the FPM.

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