Type-2 diabetes (T2D) is a complex disease characterized by insulin resistance in target tissues and impaired insulin release from pancreatic beta cells. As central tissue of glucose homeostasis, the pancreatic islet continues to be an important focus of research to understand the pathophysiology of the disease. The increased access to human pancreatic islets has resulted in improved knowledge of islet function, and together with advances in RNA sequencing and related technologies, revealed the transcriptional and epigenetic landscape of human islet cells. The discovery of thousands of long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) transcripts highly enriched in the pancreatic islet and/or specifically expressed in the beta-cells, points to yet another layer of gene regulation of many hitherto unknown mechanistic principles governing islet cell functions. Here we review fundamental islet physiology and propose functional implications of the lncRNAs in islet development and endocrine cell functions. We also take into account important differences between rodent and human islets in terms of morphology and function, and suggest how species-specific lncRNAs may partly influence gene regulation to define the unique phenotypic identity of an organism and the functions of its constituent cells. The implication of primate-specific lncRNAs will be far-reaching in all aspects of diabetes research, but most importantly in the identification and development of novel targets to improve pancreatic islet cell functions as a therapeutic approach to treat T2D.
- Endokrinologi och diabetes