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Distribution of cell types of the islets of langerhans throughout the pancreas of the Chacma baboon.

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THE ANATOMICAL RECORD 217:172-177 (1987)
Distribution of Cell Types of the Islets of
Langerhans Throughout the Pancreas of the
Chacma Baboon
Research Institute for Medical Biophysics, South African Medical Research Council
(S.A.W.-C.), and Department of Surgery, Medical School, University of Stellenbosch (D.I?D.),
Tygerberg, 7505, Republic of South Africa
Biopsies of the pancreas head, tail, and uncinate regions of four
baboons were processed for immunocytochemical (ICC) studies by using avidinbiotin-peroxidase label for light microscopy (LM). Toluidine-blue- or methylene-bluestained 0.5-pm sections of nonosmicated resin-embedded tissue were viewed to locate
areas of suitable islets. For ICC investigations, batches 10 pm apart of ten consecutive 1-pm sections throughout ten islets from each of the three regions were immunolabelled for LM. Four slides in each batch were immunolabelled consecutively for
insulin, glucagon, somatostatin, and pancreatic polypeptide, the fifth acting as one
of the range of controls in each batch.
The number of each of the four cell types was counted in at least ten immunolabelled islets from each of the pancreas heads, uncinate portions, and tails. The
uncinate region and not the head, as in most mammals, was found to contain
significantly higher numbers of pancreatic polypeptide (PP)cells and lower numbers
of A (glucagon) and D (somatostatin) cells (P< .001).The PP cells occurred in clumps
and not as described in other mammals as part of the mantle of A, D, and PP cells.
PP and A cell numbers were significantly different for each region (P< .001), being
lowest in the head for PP and in the uncinate process for A cells. D cell distribution
was similar to that of the A cells whilst a significantly smaller number of B (insulin)
cells was found in the tail compared with other regions (P< .001).
The varying distribution of cells in islets in different
parts of the pancreas was reported in 1976 (Orci et al.,
1976) in the rat, with glucagon-rich islets occurring in
the tail, body, and superior head (dorsal) whilst pancreatic polypeptide (PP)-rich islets were found in the
middle and inferior head (ventral). In the same year it
was reported that PP cells in the dog were more abundant in the portion of the pancreas adjacent to the duodenum (Larsson et al., 1976)and that they were identical
to the previously described F (or X) cells found mainly
in the uncinate process Wunger et al., 1965). In 1978
O’Rahilly and Muller reported a heterogeneity in cellular composition of the human endocrine pancreas depending on the anatomic location of the islets and linked
it to the dual origin of pancreas observed during embryogenesis in mammals. A 3D reconstruction of rat pancreas (Baetens et al., 1979) confirmed earlier findings
(Orci et al., 1976) of PP-rich, glucagon-poor islets in the
areas developed from the ventral primordium and glucagon-rich, PP-poor islets in the area developed from the
dorsal primordium. The study was repeated on human
pancreas (Orci et al., 1978) with similar results. It was
suggested from work on the dog and human that the
concentration of PP is inversely proportional to that of
insulin and glucagon and that PP concentration is significantly higher in the uncinate process and head of
the pancreas than in the body and tail (Gersell et al.,
0 1987 ALAN R. LISS, INC.
1979). These results seem to suggest a nonrandom arrangement of cells within a n islet or islets within the
pancreas and this raises the question of whether there
is a functional significance to this arrangement.
The distribution of cell types of the islets of Langerhans throughout the pancreas of the Chacma baboon
was investigated in this study.
Tissue Processing
Biopsies from the head, uncinate, and tail regions of
the pancreas of four Chacma baboons (Pupio ursinus) of
both sexes were taken under anaesthesia induced by
sodium pentobarbitone (Sagatal, Maybaker) and maintained with ethrane. The tail biopsy was taken from the
horizontal portion of the pancreas, lateral to the superior mesenteric vessels. The uncinate process biopsy was
taken from the pancreas, inferior to the superior mesenteric vessels in the portion of the pancreas folding
behind these vessels. The head biopsy was taken from
the portion lying between the inner curve of the second
part of the duodenum and the superior mesenteric vessels (Fig. 1).The tissue was processed for ultrastructural
immunolabelling studies in the following way. The biopReceived June 16,1986; accepted August 1, 1986.
lrnrnunocytochernical Procedures
Fig. 1. Diagrammatic representation of the areas of biopsy in the
baboon pancreas: head (H),uncinate (U)and tail (T). D = duodenum,
a = superior mesenteric artery; v = superior mesenteric vein. Line AB
in a represents the section plane viewed in b.
sies were placed in a drop of 1% glutaraldehyde (GA)
(Sabatini et al., 1963) in 0.1 M sodium cacodylate buffer,
pH 7.4, and cut into slices no more than 1mm thick and
roughly 2 mm broad by 4 mm long. Tissue slices of each
biopsy were placed, per region of the pancreas, into 1%
GA in the 0.1 M sodium cacodylate buffer (300 mOsmol)
for 2 hours at pH 7.4. At each stage of the tissue processing the bottles were rotated a t room temperature (RT)
(Hayat, 1970) in a Taab rotator type N.
After two 10-minute washes in 0.1 M sodium cacodylate buffer, pH 7.4, the tissue was dehydrated in the
following way: 50%, 70%, and 90% ethyl alcohol (EtOH)
for 15 minutes each; 100% EtOH for two changes of 15
minutes each followed by 100% acetone for 30 minutes.
The tissue was then placed in a 1:l mixture of acetone
and ERL-4206 resin (vinyl cyclohexene dioxide) (Spurr,
1969)for 30 minutes followed by a n addition of a n equal
volume of resin for a further 30 minutes and finally into
pure resin overnight. After a further 4-6 hours impregnation with fresh resin, each tissue slice was embedded
in resin in the flat “lid” end of a n inverted Beem capsule
from which the narrow-shaped end had been cut.
Thick (0.5-1.0 pm) survey sections of tissue were cut,
stained with toluidine or methylene blue and viewed
under a Zeiss light microscope until a n area containing
suitable large islets was located. Five consecutive slides
were prepared of the next ten 1-pm sections. Ten 1-pm
sections were discarded before another five slides, each
containing two 1-pm sections were prepared. A further
ten 1-pm sections were discarded and the procedure was
repeated until survey sections, stained at regular intervals through the cutting process, revealed that one or
more islets had been cut through. One slide in each
batch was immunostained for glucagon, one for insulin,
one for somatostatin, one for PP, and the remaining one
was used as a different control slide in each batch. In
this way the whole range of absorption and method
controls was performed over the area of tissue under
scrutiny. This procedure was repeated in the head, the
uncinate region, and the tail of the pancreas of four
baboons. Details of the ultrastructural studies have been
submitted separately for publication.
Before the immunolabelling procedure for light microscopy (LM) the resin of the 0.5-1-pm sections was
removed by adding a drop of sodium methoxide to the
warmed slide for 5-10 seconds before washing in methyl
alcohol (Mayor et al., 1961). The sections were then
quenched of endogenous peroxidase by incubating for 30
minutes in 0.3% hydrogen peroxide in methanol.
Immunolabelling was then performed by using the
vectastain ABC kit (Vector Laboratories) according to
the instructions provided by the manufacturers. Details
of the primary antisera used are given in Table 1.
The peroxide marker was revealed by incubating the
sections for 2-5 minutes in a 0.05% enzyme substrate
solution of diaminobenzidine tetrahydrochloride (DAB)
containing 0.01% hydrogen peroxide. This resulted in a
brown stain deposit at the areas of positive immunoreactivity. The sections were counterstained with methylene or toluidine blue or on occasions with methylene
blue-basic fuchsin stain and finally mounted in DPX.
Both first- and second-level controls were used (Larsson, 1981).The first-level controls involved replacement
of primary antiserum with antiserum absorbed with
antigen. The second-level controls involved omission of
either the primary antiserum on the second-layer antibody or the avidin D-biotinylated horseradish peroxidase H complex.
TABLE 1. Antisera details
Antigen to
Porcine PP
midpart of
the C terminal
Synthetic ( S )
Natural (N)
Gift from
Dr. T. Paquette
(light microscopy)
N (porcine)
013-P Dako
043-P Dako
Statistical Analysis of Cell Distributions
Light micrographs of avidin-biotin-peroxidaselabelled
islet tissue printed at a final magnification of between
400 and 600 times were used for the following analysis.
The number of insulin-, glucagon-, somatostatin-, and
PP-containing cells was counted in as many islets as
possible from the four different baboon head, uncinate,
and tail regions of the pancreas. The counts were then
expressed as a percentage of the whole for each islet.
The percentage of each cell type in each region was
compared in all four baboons for any significant differences which would preclude a pooling of data for a final
analysis. The subgroups of each of the cell type percentage data in the three regions of the pancreas were analysed by using paired t comparisons (assuming unequal
variances) with Bonferroni probabilities. P values of
< .001 were considered significant. Ideally ratios should
not be used for analysis because the cell for comparison
is involved in both the numerator and denominator so
that a dependency is introduced. The ratio will then not
follow any statistical distribution and should not be
analysed by using a statistical test. Percentage values
were analysed however, because the number of cells in
an islet is dependent on the size of the islet. Absolute
values are just not comparable without considering some
method of standardization between islets.
Preparation of islet cell distribution maps
Adjacent sections from each islet were immunolabelled with ABC for insulin, glucagon, somatostatin,
and PP. The immunolabelled cells for each hormone
were traced onto a single acetate sheet with a Stabilo
superfine overhead projection pen and the resulting
maps were photographed.
Figure 2 provides an illustration of the type of labelling achieved for glucogen in one islet from the baboon
pancreas tail. Figures 3-5 were obtained by tracing cells
labelled for each hormone on adjacent sections from
each islet onto a single acetate sheet which was then
photographed to display the distribution of islet cells in
sections of islets from each region of the pancreas.
A comparison of islet cell counts from four different
baboons for the head, uncinate, and tail regions of the
pancreas revealed no significant difference between the
corresponding counts for each baboon. Data from all of
the baboons were thus able to be pooled to compare the
variations in distribution of cell types in islets from
different regions of the pancreas.
Mean percentage content of each individual cell type
in each of the three regions of the pancreas is illustrated
in Table 2. The standard deviations illustrate the considerable variation within each region but separate and
pooled variance analysis revealed a significantly lower
proportion of insulin (B) cells ( P < .001) in the tail compared with head and uncinate regions. The numbers of
glucagon (A) cells for each of the three regions were
significantly different ( P < .001). The highest proportion of A cells was in the tail, with significantly lower
values in the head and minimal counts in the uncinate
region. The proportion of somatostatin (D) cells was
slightly higher in the tail than in the head but both
values were significantly higher than in the uncinate
region ( P < .001). The values for PP cells were significantly different for all three regions ( P < .001). The
highest number occurred in the uncinate region with a
gradation through tail to the lowest count in the head.
It was assumed in the early 1970s that all islets of a
pancreas were similarly constructed, and when, in the
rat, “atypical” islets were observed with a low glucagon
cell content but high PP cell content (Orci et al., 1976),
islets were systematically sampled from various regions
of the pancreas. Glucagon-rich islets were found in the
tail, body, or superior part of the head of the pancreas
(the dorsal region) which was vascularized by the gastroduodenal and splenic arteries of the coeliac trunk,
whilst PP-rich islets always appeared in the middle and
inferior part of the head (the ventral region), vascularized by a branch of the superior mesenteric artery (Baetens et al., 1979; Orci, 1982). These results represented
another nonrandom situation further evidence for which
was obtained from investigation into the cell distribution in the human pancreas (Orci and Perrelet, 1978).
Results presented here for the baboon suggest a similar nonrandom situation and although the details of cell
distribution for each species are slightly different, there
emerges a definite pattern which has been suggested to
be related to the embryonic development of the pancreas. In the embryo the pancreas originates as a ventral and a dorsal bud evaginating from the primitive
gut (O’Rahilly and Muller, 1978).Eventually the ventral
bud moves to a dorsal position to merge with the dorsal
bud where it forms the posterior part of the pancreas
The most striking difference between islets from the
ventral and dorsal regions of the pancreas is their content of A and PP cells. In general, there appears to be a
complementary arrangement of A and PP cells so that
the part of the pancreas developed from the ventral bud,
which has been found to be rich in PP cells, is very low
in A cell content whilst the dorsal area of the pancreas
is rich in A cells and low in PP cells. In the baboons
studied, the location of the high PP cell content and low
A cell content was even more specifically found in the
uncinate process. Throughout the rest of the head (ventral) region even fewer PP cells than in the tail were
observed and the A cell content was midway between
that of the tail and the uncinate region.
In the mammal generally and the rat and human in
particular, the PP cells are described as forming part of
Fig. 2. Light micrograph of section of an islet from the pancreas tail
immunolabelled with avidin-biotin-peroxidasecomplex (ABC) for PP.
The section was counterstained with methylene blue-basic fuchsin
stain. Final magnification x576.
Figs. 3-5. Maps displaying the distribution of islet cells in sections
of islets from the head (Fig. 3), uncinate (Fig. 4), and tail (Fig. 5)
regions of the Chacma baboon pancreas. Black represents insulin containing B cells; green represents glucagon containing A cells; orange
represents somatostatin containing D cells and n1.r-l- - cells.
TABLE 2. Distribution of cell types in islets from the head, uncinate, and tail regions of
the baboon pancreas'
Mean percentage distribution of cell types
Region of
Ventral head
Ventral uncinate
Dorsal tail
'B, insulin; A, glucagon; D, somatostatin; PP, pancreatic polypeptide.
*Signifies for each cell type, where the distribution differs significantly (P < .001).
the mantle of A, D, and PP cells around the central core
of B cells. In contrast the PP cells in the baboon seemed
to occur in a clump both in the uncinate region and,
when they were present, in large numbers in the tail.
Only occasionally were they seen singly in the islets of
the tail (dorsal) region.
In the rat and the human, the distribution of D and B
cells had been found to be relatively constant. In the
baboon the D cell content was significantly lower in the
uncinate region and appeared to mirror closely the A
cell distribution, being highest in the tail (dorsal region).
The observation, at times, of A cells in the absence of D
cells and vice versa in the baboon head or uncinate
region has only been reported before in the canine uncinate process (cited in Orci, 1975).
The number of B cells was significantly lower in the
tail (dorsal) region compared with the head and uncinate
(ventral). It is interesting that in the rat, where dorsal
and ventral islets were found to have similar numbers
of insulin-producing B cells, dorsal islets actually secreted significantly more insulin than did ventral islets
in the presence of 16.7 mM glucose and 20 mM D-glyceraldehyde which inhibits somatostatin but augments insulin release (Trimble and Renold, 1981). It is possible
that the larger number of glucagon cells in the dorsal
islets may play some contributory role in greater insulin
secretion since glucagon is known to stimulate insulin
release. The authors detected more glucagon secretion
in the dorsal islets than the ventral islets in the presence of 16.7 mM glucose. Perhaps, in the baboon, the
significantly higher number of B cells in the uncinate
region is a n internal compensation for the almost total
lack of A cells observed.
It would be interesting to investigate in the baboon
pancreas the distinct areas which have developed from
the dorsal and ventral primordia. It is tempting to speculate that the region developed from the ventral primordium in the baboon is indeed the uncinate region and
not the whole posterior portion of the head as described
in other mammals. If this is not true then the explanation that the variation in islet composition is a function
of the embryological development of the pancreas loses
a lot of its credibility.
It had been observed 20 years ago that the uncinate
process of the canine pancreas contained few, if any,
glucagon-producing A cells (Munger et al., 1965) although it has been suggested that these authors incorrectly identified the right lobe of the dog pancreas a s
the uncinate lobe. These authors noted another cell type
abundant in islets in this region and at that time they
called them F cells. An abundance of PP cells was confirmed in the uncinate region of the dog by using im-
munocytochemical techniques (Orci, 1975; Floyd et al.,
1977). After a personal communication of similar findings from Larsson (1974), Chance et al. (1976) found,
using RIA on acid-alcohol extracts of the uncinate and
tail, that the uncinate process could have as much as
ten times the content of PP as the tail region of the dog.
Confirmatory results followed (Baetens et al., 1976,
1979). The finding of most PP cells in the uncinate
region of both the dog and the baboon illustrates yet
another similarity between the baboon and canine endocrine pancreas.
We are indebted to the Medical Research Council of
South Africa and the University of Stellenbosch and we
thank Dr. R.S. Day for his assistance in analysing the
data, Messrs. C. Bruintjies, A. Tomboer and J. Witbooi
for their technical assistance, and Mrs. W. van Eyssen
for typing the manuscript. Antiporcine PP was a generous gift from Dr. T. Paquette, Diabetes Research Centre,
University of Washington.
The work presented here has been taken from a Ph.D.
thesis submitted to the University of Stellenbosch in
1985 under the promotion of Dr. D.F. du Toit.
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distributions, baboons, islets, langerhans, pancreas, typed, cells, throughout, chacma
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