Unravelling Beta Cell Populations in Pancreatic Islets: A Network Analysis Perspective on Collective Activity

Marko Gosak, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Physics

Faculty of Medicine

Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

University of Maribor

Seminar Information

Seminar Date
August 18, 2023 - 2:00 PM

FUNG Auditorium - PFBH



Insulin secreting beta cells within the pancreatic islets of Langerhans form a complex syncytium with non-trivially interconnected elements that are intrinsically nonlinear and highly heterogeneous. The nature of their collective activity and synchronized behavior, which is essential for a regulated hormone release, is therefore difficult to understand. Computational tools developed in the field of network science have proven out to be one of the key pillars for assessing the connectivity patterns between beta cells and the physiological significance of those interactions. In the seminar I shall provide an accessible introduction to the basic principles of the network theory, describe how the networks are constructed from the recorded cellular dynamics, and highlight the recent findings obtained my means of advanced multicellular imaging techniques supported by network-based analyses. The current results indicate that the extracted functional beta cell networks exhibit small-worldness, a clustered structure with well-pronounced subcompartments, and a small fraction of well-connected (hub) cells. Most importantly, the proposed methodology does not only ease the identification of functional subpopulations that orchestrate the collective rhythm but also offers a largely untapped potential to explore changes associated with disease and aging at the tissue level. Finally, I will conclude with outlining challenges offered by the multilayer network formalism in exploring the collective activity of islet cell populations and how these methodological approaches can be applied in biomedical research even beyond the pancreatic islets.

Speaker Bio

Marko Gosak obtained his PhD in 2011 at the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, University of Maribor. Since 2022 he is an associate professor for physics, employed at the Faculty of Medicine and at the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, University of Maribor. The focus of his research work is theoretical biophysics and complex systems, with emphasis on complex networks, time series and data analysis, modeling of cellular processes, and nonlinear dynamical systems. He devotes special attention to the relation of the abovementioned fields with the understanding of the fundamental principles in biological systems, lately mostly to the pancreatic islets of Langerhans and the pathogenesis of diabetes. In his career he published more than 60 papers in international journals and is considered as one of the pioneers who used the concepts from the field of network science to investigate the intercellular communication patterns in tissues.