Researchers identify new cause of loss of insulin production among those who have type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes
One of the main causes of type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes is the death of insulin-producing beta cells. Doctors have worked for years to find a way to prevent the death of these vital cells, and now researchers from the University of Texas may have found a clue that could lead to the development of more effective treatments.
The scientists reported in the Journal of Biological Chemistry
that alpha cells, which are located in the same area of the pancreas as beta cells, may release chemicals that are toxic to beta cells and result in their destruction.
Both types of cells play important roles in maintaining normal blood sugar levels. While beta cells produce insulin, which removes sugar from blood following meals, alpha cells produce a hormone called glucagon, which raises blood sugar levels when necessary.
However, the researchers found that alpha cells also produce a chemical called glutamate while they are releasing glucagon. In high levels, this compound was shown to damage beta cells, eventually resulting in their death.
The researchers may also have found a way to mediate this process. During the course of their study they noted that a protein called GLT1 acts almost as a thermostat for glutamate and can control the levels of the chemical around beta cells. This knowledge could eventually lead to the development of new medications that protect beta cells from the harmful effects of glutamate.
For now, the team said that they are working to develop a test for glutamate levels that would indicate if they have reached toxic levels. This could help doctors identify patients who are at risk for developing type 1 or type 2 diabetes before they begin showing any symptoms of the condition.