esearchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have identified a gene that may be responsible for determining an individual's susceptibility to both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. The study, which lasted over a decade, identified a gene in obese mice that controls a protein called tomosyn-2 - a compound responsible for decreased insulin production in pancreatic beta cells.
When insulin production in the pancreas is reduced diabetes can follow. Insulin is released into the bloodstream where it allows cells to absorb sugar and use it for energy. Individuals with Type 1 diabetes are insulin-deficient while those with Type 2 diabetes are insulin-resistant. Both forms of the disease cause significant complications, especially if it goes unmanaged.
The newly-discovered gene was found to affect insulin production in obese mice by reducing the activity of the protein tomosyn-2. While the gene can be controlled in mice, researchers will need to conduct further studies to determine whether medications that target the protein can be developed for humans.
"It's too early for us to know how relevant this gene will be to human diabetes, but the concept of negative regulation is one of the most interesting things to come out of this study and that very likely applies to humans," says Alan Attie, head of the study and biochemistry professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The research team specifically used obese mice because they need more insulin to normalize blood glucose levels, especially after a meal, and humans have similar insulin needs. Being overweight requires more insulin to simply keep blood sugar levels regulated...