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Analyzing the 3D Architecture of Pancreatic Islets of Langerhans by Serial Block Face SEM

Monday, September 22, 2014 — Poster Session II

4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

FAES Academic Center



* FARE Award Winner


  • M.A. Aronova
  • C.R. Pfeifer
  • A. Shomorony
  • G. Zhang
  • R.D. Leapman


We show how serial block face scanning electron microscopy (SBF-SEM) can be applied to image the three-dimensional architecture of pancreatic islets of Langerhans, the microscopic endocrine organs that regulate blood glucose homeostasis. The technique provides structural information on a nanoscale from tissue volumes as large as 10 million cubic micrometers. By analyzing entire mouse islets, we have been able to determine (1) the precise distributions of glucagon-secreting alpha cells and insulin-secreting beta cells, (2) the distributions of cell volumes and differences in morphology, (3) the organization of blood vessels and pericapillary spaces that perfuse the islets, and (4) the ultrastructure of individual alpha and beta secretory cells. This approach yields new information, which cannot be obtained using conventional thin-section electron microscopy, and provides useful input to physiological models of islet function.

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