Scientists report that a hormone called ghrelin could be used to create new treatments for regulating blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.
Ghrelin works by opposing the actions of insulin and glucagon, helping control blood glucose levels, but it hasn’t been studied as much as these two hormones.
In previous research, scientists from UT Southwestern Medical Center, Texas, US discovered that inhibiting glucagon receptors could prevent dangerously high blood sugar levels.
Consequently, they hypothesised that blocking the action of glucagon could lead to treatments for type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
This idea formed the basis of their new study in which they analysed the role of ghrelin in mice that lacked glucagon receptors.
“When we tried to make these animals diabetic by giving them an agent that destroys insulin-producing cells, the mice did not develop diabetes,” explained senior author Dr. Jeffrey Zigman. “Their blood sugar was normal. In addition to these results, we found that their ghrelin levels were high.”
When Zigman and colleagues blocked these high levels of ghreli, the mice experienced hypoglycemia.
“These findings suggest that when glucagon activity is blocked, circulating levels of ghrelin rise, which helps to prevent dangerously low blood sugars from developing, a condition known as hypoglycemia,” added Zigman.
Zigman said that new treatments are being developed that target glucagon receptors, and avoiding hypoglycemia is a primary consideration for pharmaceutical companies.
The researchers now plan to determine whether administering ghrelin or a compound mimicking its action could correct hypoglycemia that occurs from glucagon inhibition.
The study has been published in the journal Diabetes Care.

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