Optimizing beta cell function through mesenchymal stromal cell mediated mitochondria transfer

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Pretransplant islet culture is associated with the loss of islet cell mass and insulin secretory function. Insulin secretion from islet β-cells is primarily controlled by mitochondrial ATP generation in response to elevations in extracellular glucose. Coculture of islets with mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) improves islet insulin secretory function in vitro, which correlates with superior islet graft function in vivo. This study aimed to determine whether the improved islet function is associated with mitochondrial transfer from MSCs to cocultured islets. We have demonstrated mitochondrial transfer from human adipose MSCs to human islet β-cells in coculture. Fluorescence imaging showed that mitochondrial transfer occurs, at least partially, through tunneling nanotube (TNT)-like structures. The extent of mitochondrial transfer to clinically relevant human islets was greater than that to experimental mouse islets. Human islets are subjected to more extreme cellular stressors than mouse islets, which may induce “danger signals” for MSCs, initiating the donation of MSC-derived mitochondria to human islet β-cells. Our observations of increased MSC-mediated mitochondria transfer to hypoxia-exposed mouse islets are consistent with this and suggest that MSCs are most effective in supporting the secretory function of compromised β-cells. Ensuring optimal MSC-derived mitochondria transfer in preculture and/or cotransplantation strategies could be used to maximize the therapeutic efficacy of MSCs, thus enabling the more widespread application of clinical islet transplantation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)574-584
Number of pages11
JournalStem Cells
Issue number8
Early online date8 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


  • Islet cell transplantation
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Experimental
  • mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs)
  • mitochondria


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