A newly discovered hormone found in fat cells could lead to better control of type 2 diabetes after a team of Harvard researchers found that it helps regulate blood sugar metabolism in the liver.
Using experimental models and state-of-the-art technology, the team at the Harvard School of Public Health found that switching off the aP2 protein leads to better control of glucose production from the liver, highlighting a potential new target for treating type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases .
“Although it has long been recognised that a key event leading to development of type 2 diabetes is uncontrolled glucose production from the liver, underlying mechanisms have been elusive,” senior author Gokhan S Hotamisligil said in a Harvard press release.
“We now have identified aP2 as a novel hormone released from fat cells that controls this critical function.”
For the research, the team tested changing the levels of the hormone in two groups of mice. First, they increased aP2 levels in normal healthy mice to match the high blood aP2 levels seen in obese mice and humans. This action resulted in impaired glucose metabolism.
They then lowered the blood aP2 levels in obese and diabetic mice to levels seen in lean healthy mice, which resulted in glucose metabolism being restored to its normal status.
Hotamisligil explained: “We suspect this communication system between adipose tissue and liver may have evolved to help fat cells command the liver to supply the body with glucose in times of nutrient deprivation.”
“However, when the engorged fat cells lose control over this signal in obesity, the blood levels of aP2 rise, glucose is poured into the bloodstream and cannot be cleared by other tissues. The result is high blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetes.”
Lead author Haiming Cao, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases at HSPH, said the findings have the potential “to reshape the way physicians treat diabetes”.

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