Beta cells, known for producing insulin and regulating blood sugar levels, are crucial in the pancreas.
However, these cells are not all the same, and understanding their differences could pave the way for new diabetes treatments.
Recent research from Weill Cornell Medicine suggests that the loss of a specific type of beta cell might contribute to the development of diabetes.
Different Types of Beta Cells and Their Roles
In the study published in Nature Cell Biology, Dr. James Lo and his team identified four distinct types of beta cells.
Among them, one kind, termed “cluster 1” beta cells, stood out because they could produce more insulin and metabolize sugar more effectively than the other three types.
The researchers hypothesize that losing these specific cells could contribute to type 2 diabetes.
Techniques Employed in the Study
The team used single-cell transcriptomics, a method that measures the expression of all genes in individual mouse beta cells, enabling the categorization of these cells into four distinct types.
The cluster 1 beta cells were unique, with high expression of genes that helped break down sugar and secrete insulin.
They also expressed high levels of the CD63 gene, marking this protein as an identifier for this specific beta cell type.
Key Findings in Mice and Humans
The cluster 1 beta cells, characterized by high CD63 gene expression, were found to produce more insulin in response to sugar in both human and mouse beta cells.
In obese mice and mice with type 2 diabetes, the numbers of these high-performing beta cells decreased. Dr. Lo suggests this decrease could lead to reduced insulin production, contributing to diabetes development.
Implications for Future Treatments
When the researchers transplanted these high CD63-producing beta cells into diabetic mice, their blood sugar levels normalized.
Removal of these cells caused a return of high blood sugar levels, whereas transplanting beta cells with low CD63 production didn’t have the same effect.
This discovery could significantly influence diabetes treatment, particularly in the context of beta cell transplants.
Future Research Directions
The team intends to understand why these high CD63-producing beta cells decrease in diabetic mice and how their loss can be prevented.
They also plan to examine the impact of current diabetes treatments on different beta cell types, especially regarding GLP-1 agonists, which aid in increasing insulin release in diabetic patients.
Dr. Lo speculates that these treatments might enhance the functioning of low CD63-producing beta cells. If successful, these research directions could lead to improved methods to treat or prevent type 2 diabetes.
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