Closing in on the Mechanisms of Pulsatile Insulin Secretion

Insulin secretion from pancreatic islet β-cells occurs in a pulsatile fashion, with a typical period of ~5 min. The basis of this pulsatility in mouse islets has been investigated for more than four decades, and the various theories have been described as either qualitative or mathematical models. In many cases the models differ in their mechanisms for rhythmogenesis, as well as other less important details. In this Perspective, we describe two main classes of models: those in which oscillations in the intracellular Ca2+ concentration drive oscillations in metabolism, and those in which intrinsic metabolic oscillations drive oscillations in Ca2+ concentration and electrical activity. We then discuss nine canonical experimental findings that provide key insights into the mechanism of islet oscillations and list the models that can account for each finding. Finally, we describe a new model that integrates features from multiple earlier models and is thus called the Integrated Oscillator Model. In this model, intracellular Ca2+ acts on the glycolytic pathway in the generation of oscillations, and it is thus a hybrid of the two main classes of models. It alone among models proposed to date can explain all nine key experimental findings, and it serves as a good starting point for future studies of pulsatile insulin secretion from human islets.