• Islet mesenchymal stromal cell;
  • Endoglin;
  • Endothelial cell;
  • Transforming growth factor-β


Following islet transplantation, islet graft revascularization is compromised due to loss of endothelial cells (ECs) during islet culture. TGF-β signaling pathways are essential for vascular homeostasis but their importance for islet EC function is unclear. We have identified a population of multipotent mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) within islets and investigated how modulation of TGF-β signaling by these cells influences islet EC viability. Cultured islets exhibited reduced expression of EC markers (VEGFR2, VE-cadherin and CD31), which was associated with diminished but sustained expression of endoglin a marker of both ECs and MSCs. Double fluorescent labeling of islets in situ with the EC marker CD31 disclosed a population of CD31-negative cells which were positive for endoglin. In vitro coculture of microvascular ECs with endoglin-positive, CD31-negative islet MSCs reduced VEGFR2 protein expression, disrupted EC angiogenic behavior, and increased EC detachment. Medium conditioned by islet MSCs significantly decreased EC viability and increased EC caspase 3/7 activity. EC:MSC cocultures showed enhanced Smad2 phosphorylation consistent with altered ALK5 signaling. Pharmacological inhibition of ALK5 activity with SB431542 (SB) improved EC survival upon contact with MSCs, and SB-treated cultured islets retained EC marker expression and sensitivity to exogenous VEGF164. Thus, endoglin-expressing islet MSCs influence EC ALK5 signaling in vitro, which decreases EC viability, and changes in ALK5 activity in whole cultured islets contribute to islet EC loss. Modifying TGF-β signaling may enable maintenance of islet ECs during islet isolation and thus improve islet graft revascularization post-transplantation. STEM CELLS2013;31:547–559