Underlying Mechanism Behind Insulin Making Cells Discovered

People suffering from diabetes do not have enough insulin in their body essential for regulating their blood sugar levels. A primary cause of this is that diabetics do not have enough pancreatic beta cells to produce enough insulin in their body. This lack of insulin making cells may someday be addressed as researchers have discovered a mechanism in the body that may convert other cell types into pancreatic beta cells.

Researchers from the Larry L. Hillblom Islet Research Center in UCLA may have discovered a way how the body could convert other types of cells into pancreatic beta cells to produce insulin. This discovery may be seen as a possible means to treat, and even find a cure for diabetes. Their findings are reported in the journal Developmental Cell’s April issue.

It was previously believed that the identity of cells are locked into place and that they can’t be switched to other cell types. But there have been recent research on the subject that show some cells may actually be coaxed into changing into another cell type. The UCLA researchers have taken this findings and allowed them to further understanding the mechanisms behind a cell’s beta identity.

The researchers shows that the chemical tags called methyl groups that bind to DNA may be crucial into understanding how cells can be converted into insulin secreting beta cells. The methyl group functions like a volume knob where it turns the activity of genes up or down. This action in the DNA show that a gene called ARX, which triggers the formation of glucagon-secreting alpha cells in the embryonic pancreas, are kept silent in the beta cells. The researchers discovered that the deletion of an enzyme called Dnmt1, which is responsible for DNA methylation, from the insulin producing beta cells converts them into alpha cells.

According to Dr. Anil Bhushan, an associate professor of medicine in the endocrinology division at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and in the UCLA Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology and a study co-author, “We show that the basis for this conversion depends not on genetic sequences but on modifications to the DNA that dictates how the DNA is wrapped within the cell. We think this is crucial to understanding how to convert a variety of cell types, including stem cells, into functional beta cells.”

“Our work shows that beta cells and related endocrine cells can easily be converted into each other,” Dr. Bhushan further added.

Source: University of California – Los Angeles Health Sciences (2011, April 30). Researchers discover mechanism that could convert certain cells into insulin-making cells. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 5, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110429162935.htm

 

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