To address insulin insufficiency, diabetes research has long focused on techniques for replacing insulin-producing β cells. Studies in mice have suggested that, under some conditions, α cells possess the capacity to transdifferentiate into β cells, although the mechanisms that drive this conversion are unclear. In this issue, Bramswig et al. analyzed the methylation states of purified human α, β, and acinar cells and found α cells exhibit intrinsic phenotypic plasticity associated with specific histone methylation profiles. In addition to expanding our understanding of this potential source of β cells, this compendium of carefully generated human gene expression and epigenomic data in islet cell subtypes constitutes a truly valuable resource for the field.
Larry G. Moss