Small changes in a cluster of brain cells could help maintain blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, research has suggested.
Scientists from Yale School of Medicine launched the study because they wanted to understand more about brain neurons, which control appetite, and how they can affect blood glucose levels.
“We’ve found that changes in the size of mitochondria – small [organisms] responsible for energy production – in certain cells in the brain, could be key to maintaining the blood sugar within a safe range,” said senior author Professor Sabrina Diano.
In a study using mice, the researchers found that mitochondria significantly changed size when driven by a protein called dynamin-related protein 1 (DRP1). DRP1 was present in some of the animals and missing in others.
“We found that when DRP1 activity in the neurons was missing, these neurons were more sensitive to changes in glucose levels,” added Diano.
The researchers were surprised to observe that these changes in small subsets of neurons were significant in raising blood glucose levels during a fasting period.
This occurred because the neurons activated a so-called counter-regulatory response to hypoglycemia, according to Diano.
“The brain senses lower glucose levels and sends signals to peripheral organs such as the liver to increase glucose production,” she explained.
The findings have added to the researchers’ understanding of “how the body keeps blood sugar levels within a safe range when sugar levels drop, like during fasting, or when they spike after a meal”.
The results could be used to help prevent hypoglycemia in people with diabetes, however, the chances of seeing this trialed in humans in the foreseeable future is very unlikely.
The results appear in the journal Cell Metabolism.

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