Scientists find neurons in the brain play key role in blood sugar regulation

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For a long time, we’ve thought that hormones like insulin and glucagon, secreted in the pancreas, are the main regulators of blood sugar levels.

But what if our brains also play a significant role?

Dr. Yong Xu from Baylor College of Medicine and his team set out to investigate just that, focusing on glucose-sensing neurons in the brain.

Two Types of Neurons, One Fascinating Discovery

According to Dr. Xu, glucose-sensing neurons fall into two categories: glucose-excited (GE) and glucose-inhibited (GI) neurons.

GE neurons become more active when glucose levels rise, which makes sense given glucose fuels most cells.

On the contrary, GI neurons are less active when glucose levels rise and become more active when glucose levels fall. This is quite puzzling, leading Xu’s team to focus their study on this lesser-known group.

The Mysterious Anoctamin 4 (Ano4)

The researchers discovered that a particular ion channel on the surface of neurons, known as anoctamin 4 (ano4), is essential for activating GI neurons in response to low glucose levels.

Xu’s team found that if a neuron in the ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus (VMH) region of the brain expressed ano4, it was a GI neuron. If it didn’t express ano4, it was not a GI neuron.

A Breakthrough in Diabetes Research

The team then experimented on a mouse model of type 1 diabetes, where insulin-producing cells are absent, leading to high blood sugar levels.

They genetically removed the ano4 gene in the GI neurons located in the VMH of these diabetic mice, which remarkably normalized their blood sugar levels.

“Our findings suggest that glucose-sensing neurons in the brain are important for whole-body glucose regulation,” Xu said.

“In this case, blood glucose levels can be manipulated quite effectively in the mouse model by knocking out a single gene in GI neurons.”

Looking Ahead

Xu’s team is now planning to explore whether blocking the ano4 channel through drugs can also help control blood glucose levels in models of type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

This research suggests that the brain, particularly GI neurons, could potentially play a critical role in the regulation of blood sugar and managing diabetes, challenging long-standing beliefs in the field.

If you care about blood sugar, please read studies that eating eggs for breakfast may control blood sugar, and this blood sugar drug also can reduce blood vessel aging.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about antibodies that block all the COVID-19 variants, and results showing blackcurrants may help lower your blood sugar after a meal.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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