• rigidity;
  • INS-1E;
  • insulin-secreting cells;
  • mechanosensitivity;
  • diabetes;
  • culture conditions


Insulin-secreting INS-1E cells are a useful tool in diabetes research. However, during permanent culture the cells tend to lose their β cell phenotype, with resultant loss of insulin-secretory responsiveness. This can be at least partially attributed to inappropriate cell culture conditions. One of the important causative factors is the rigidity of the extracellular matrix. We have therefore systematically studied the performance of INS-1E insulin-secreting cells cultured on polyacrylamide gels of different stiffnesses and analysed changes in insulin content and secretion, glucokinase enzyme activity, gene expression of β cell transcription factors and cell death and proliferation rates. INS-1E cells were cultured on polyacrylamide gels with a wide range of rigidities, including the one that simulates the stiffness of the pancreas. We detected changes in insulin content and the insulin-secretory response to glucose stimulation in parallel to the increasing stiffness of the polyacrylamide gels in the range 1700–111 000 Pa. On substrates with the highest and lowest rigidities, 322 and 111 000 Pa, the cells mainly formed pseudo-islets, while at rigidities of 1700–64800 Pa, including the rigidity of native pancreas tissue (3100 Pa), cells grew as a monolayer attached to the polyacrylamide gel surface. These observations provide evidence for an apparent mechanosensitivity of insulin-secreting INS-1E cells affecting morphology and cellular functions. The results can also provide practical advice regarding a selection of the materials appropriate for successful cell culture of insulin-secreting cells. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.