A study conducted by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, suggests that the increased presence of certain molecules in the brain can be an early sign of diabetes.
The research, published in Cell Metabolism, builds on previous studies. These studies have shown that a significant increase in BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids, more prevalent among patients with type 2 diabetes and obesity) occurs in the years before the appearance of diabetes symptoms. This is because diabetic and obese patients don’t break down the molecules as effectively as they should. For years, the reason for this has eluded researchers.
However, this study, initially performed on rodents, demonstrates that our brains are supposed to signal to the liver to increase BCAA breakdown through insulin signalling. When BCAA levels are too high, therefore, the problem lies with impaired brain signalling.
Dr. Andrew C. Shi, instructor of medicine at the Icahn School, said “What’s important is that rodents with impaired insulin signalling exclusively in the brain have elevated plasma BCAA levels and impaired BCAA breakdown in the liver.
“Since disrupted brain insulin signalling may cause the early rise of BCAAs seen in persons who eventually develop diabetes, the insulin resistance that leads to diabetes may actually start in the brain. The results suggest that levels of BCAAs may prove to reflect brain insulin sensitivity.”
This is one of a number of studies to suggest the significance of the brain in the development of diabetes. For example, it was suggested last year that the brain plays a key role in normal glucose regulation.

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