Leukocytes in Angiogenesis : Learning from Transplanted Pancreatic Islets

Sammanfattning: Angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels, is a complex process involving several cell types and molecular signals. Excessive vascular growth is a problem in tumors, and insufficient vascularization hampers the function of transplanted insulin-producing pancreatic islets. Understanding the mechanisms behind blood vessel growth generates increased means to control angiogenesis. In this thesis a model of pancreatic islet transplantation to muscle has been used to study the involvement of leukocytes in the development of new vasculature.Transplantation of isolated islets of Langerhans into mouse muscle promoted revascularization of the grafts to a level comparable to native islets in the pancreas. The complete and functional vascular restoration resulted in improved blood glucose control compared to the clinical standard implantation site, the liver. This proved muscle as a transplantation site to be a clinically relevant option for the treatment of type 1 diabetes.The rapid islet revascularization process was found to be dependent on a distinct subset of neutrophils characterized by high expression of the chemokine receptor CXCR4 and the enzyme matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP-9). These cells were recruited to recently transplanted and hypoxic grafts by islet-secreted vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF-A). Leukocyte migration and interactions in the engraftment area were monitored using a high-speed confocal microscope followed by software tracking. New software was developed to visualize migration statistics. This tool revealed areas around the islet graft where neutrophil gathering coincided with sites of angiogenesis. Macrophages in the engraftment area positioned themselves close to the newly formed vasculature and were shown to have a stabilizing effect on the vessels. When macrophages were removed, no pericytes were recruited to the forming vasculature. The perivascular macrophages also began to express a pericyte marker when in the graft, suggesting a close relationship between these cell types or macrophage plasticity.In conclusion, this thesis presents muscle as a proangiogenic transplantation site for pancreatic islets for the treatment of type 1 diabetes, where the revascularization of the grafts was dependent on the recruitment and actions of specialized immune cells.