Functional and Morphologic Characterization of Human Insulinomas

  1. Lelio Orci
  1. Departments of Medicine, Surgery and Pathology, Düsseldorf University; Diabetes Research Institute Düsseldorf Institute of Pathological Anatomy, University of Parma Italy Institute of Clinical Biochemistry and Institute of Histology and Embryology, University of Geneva Switzerland
  1. Address reprint requests to Professor Michael Berger, M.D., Department of Medicine, Düsseldorf University, Moorenstrasse 5, 4 Düsseldorf; West Germany.


Circulating levels of insulin, proinsulin-like component, glucagon, growth hormone, and pancreatic polypeptide were measured in 12 patients with functioning insulinomas, and the suppressibility of serum insulin by somatostatin and diazoxide was assessed before surgical removal of the tumors. The hormone content of the tumors was evaluated by radioimmunoassay and by immunofluorescence and the structure of the tumor cells by electron microscopy. Based on these findings, we propose a new classification of insulinomas in two groups: group A is characterized morphologically by abundant well-granulated typical B-cells, trabecular arrangement of tumor cells, and uniform insulin immumofluorescence; functionally, these tumors are associated with a moderate elevation of proinsulin-like component and with an almost complete suppressibility of serum insulin by somatostatin and diazoxide. In contrast, tumors of group B are characterized by scarce well-granulated typical B-cells, a medullary-type histologie structure, and irregular insulin immunofluorescence; functionally these tumors show elevated circulating levels of proinsulin-like component and a marked resistance of insulin secretion to somatostatin and diazoxide inhibition. This way of separating human insulinomas in groups A and B represents a simplification of existing classifications and emphasizes the quantitative ultrastructure in relationship to suppressibility of insulin secretion. The proposed classification of human insulinomas in groups A and B, however, does not allow the assessment of the clinical or histopathologic malignancy of the tumors.

  • Received December 27, 1982.
  • Revision received March 31, 1983.
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