Islets of Langerhans are islands of endocrine cells scattered throughout the pancreas. A number of new studies have pointed to the potential for conversion of non-β islet cells in to insulin-producing β-cells to replenish β-cell mass as a means to treat diabetes. Understanding normal islet cell mass and function is important to help advance such treatment modalities: what should be the target islet/β-cell mass, does islet architecture matter to energy homeostasis, and what may happen if we lose a particular population of islet cells in favour of β-cells? These are all questions to which we will need answers for islet replacement therapy by transdifferentiation of non-β islet cells to be a reality in humans. We know a fair amount about the biology of β-cells but not quite as much about the other islet cell types. Until recently, we have not had a good grasp of islet mass and distribution in the human pancreas. In this review, we will look at current data on islet cells, focussing more on non-β cells, and on human pancreatic islet mass and distribution.
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