What is a β cell? – Chapter I in the Human Islet Research Network (HIRN) review series

Klaus H. Kaestner*, Martha Campbell-Thompson, Yuval Dor, Ronald G. Gill, Benjamin Glaser, Seung K. Kim, Maike Sander, Cherie Stabler, Andrew F. Stewart, Alvin C. Powers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: The pancreatic β cell, as the sole source of the vital hormone insulin, has been under intensive study for more than a century. Given the potential of newly created insulin-producing cells as a treatment or even cure of type 1 diabetes (T1D) and possibly in severe cases of type 2 diabetes (T2D), multiple academic and commercial laboratories are working to derive surrogate glucose-responsive, insulin-producing cells. Scope of Review: The recent development of advanced phenotyping technologies, including molecular, epigenomic, histological, or functional, have greatly improved our understanding of the critical properties of human β cells. Using this information, here we summarize the salient features of normal, fully functional adult human β cells, and propose minimal criteria for what should rightfully be termed ‘β cells’ as opposed to insulin-producing but not fully-functional surrogates that we propose should be referred to as ‘β-like’ cells or insulin-producing cells. Major Conclusions: Clear criteria can be established to differentiate fully functional, mature β cells from ‘β-like’ surrogates. In addition, we outline important knowledge gaps that must be addressed to enable a greater understanding of the β cell.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number101323
JournalMolecular Metabolism
StatePublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We apologize to our colleagues whose relevant and important work could not be cited due to space limitations or whose discussions and ideas we mention but do not attribute. Related work in the authors' laboratories has been supported by the Human Islet Research Network (HIRN; RRID:SCR_014393; https://hirnetwork.org ) and by NIDDK grants UC4DK112217 (KHK), U01DK123594 (KHK), UC4DK112232 (ACP), U01DK123716 (ACP and SKK), UC4DK116271 (KHK and YD), U01DK123716 (ACP), DK106755 (ACP), U01DK120429 (MS), UG3DK122639 (MS), UC4DK104202 (MS), U01DK123743 (SKK and ACP), UC4DK104211 (ACP, AFS, SKK), DK108120 (ACP), DK116873 (AFS), DK116904 (AFS), DK125285 (AFS), DK105015 (AFS), UC4DK104155 (MC-T), DK123329 (MC-T), DK122160 (MC-T), DK122638 (CS), and DK020541, DK20593, DK19525, DK116074, and by the Department of Veterans Affairs (BX000666; ACP). All authors reviewed and edited the final manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s)


  • Beta cell
  • Diabetes
  • Islet
  • Islet transplantation


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