Metallothionein protects islets from hypoxia and extends islet graft survival by scavenging most kinds of reactive oxygen species.
In bioartificial pancreases (BP), the number of islets needed to restore normoglycaemia in the diabetic patient is critical. However, the confinement of a high quantity of islets in a limited space may impact islet survival, particularly in regard to the low oxygen partial pressure (PO2) in such environments. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the impact of islet number in a confined space under hypoxia on cell survival. Rat islets were seeded at three different concentrations (150, 300, and 600 Islet Equivalents (IEQ)/cm(2)) and cultured in normal atmospheric pressure (160 mmHg) as well as hypoxic conditions (15 mmHg) for 24 hours. Cell viability, function, hypoxia-induced changes in gene expression, and cytokine secretion were then assessed. Notably, hypoxia appeared to induce a decrease in viability and increasing islet density exacerbated the observed increase in cellular apoptosis as well as the loss of function. These changes were also associated with an increase in inflammatory gene transcription. Taken together, these data indicate that when a high number of islets are confined to a small space under hypoxia, cell viability and function are significantly impacted. Thus, in order to improve islet survival in this environment during transplantation, oxygenation is of critical importance.