Blocking a set of enzymes in the liver may turn off glucose production, leading to healthier blood sugar levels for type 2 diabetics
A new study from researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies has shown that a group of enzymes known as histone deacetylases (HDACs) may play a key role in regulating the liver's production of glucose. The finding could lead to the development of new medications that allow individuals with type 2 diabetes to maintain tighter control over their blood sugar levels.
HDACs are currently used as a target for some cancer-fighting medications. They have been shown to interact with the DNA of cells, but the finding that they have a role in controlling blood sugar levels is new.
The researchers reported in the journal Cell
that the enzymes enter the nuclei of cells in the liver during periods of fasting, turning on genes that instruct the liver to produce more glucose. The team believes that by designing drugs that block the effects of these enzymes - or possibly modifying the cancer medications that already exist - it may be possible to suppress blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics.
This could be a major improvement over some current type 2 diabetes medications, because the researchers said that most of these work by trying to boost the effects of insulin. In type 2 diabetes, an individual's tissue becomes unresponsive to the effects of this hormone, which removes excess glucose from the blood.
However, by blocking the enzymes that signal the liver to produce glucose in the first place, medications could bypass the insulin process completely. However, the task of using medications to control this process may still be more difficult than simply repurposing HDAC drugs used in cancer treatments.
"The key will be to specifically block HDACs involved in glucose control," said Reuben Shaw, PhD, who led the study. Still, he added "these exciting results show that drugs that inhibit the activity of HDACs may be worthwhile to be pursued as potential diabetes drugs."