Pancreatic β-cells exhibit bursting oscillations with a wide range of periods. Whereas periods in isolated cells are generally either a few seconds or a few minutes, in intact islets of Langerhans they are intermediate (10-60 s). We develop a mathematical model for β-cell electrical activity capable of generating this wide range of bursting oscillations. Unlike previous models, bursting is driven by the interaction of two slow processes, one with a relatively small time constant (1-5 s) and the other with a much larger time constant (1-2 min). Bursting on the intermediate time scale is generated without need for a slow process having an intermediate time constant, hence phantom bursting. The model suggests that isolated cells exhibiting a fast pattern may nonetheless possess slower processes that can be brought out by injecting suitable exogenous currents. Guided by this, we devise an experimental protocol using the dynamic clamp technique that reliably elicits islet-like, medium period oscillations from isolated cells. Finally, we show that strong electrical coupling between a fast burster and a slow burster can produce synchronized medium bursting, suggesting that islets may be composed of cells that are intrinsically either fast or slow, with few or none that are intrinsically medium.
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