May 30, 2013

How Insulin Impacts the Cells

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insulin-effectResearchers in Australia have charted a comprehensive path that insulin follows in the body. This first-ever map of how insulin works may provide insight on how to treat or even prevent diabetes. The study was published in Cell Metabolism.

Insulin plays an important role in the body because it lowers blood glucose by moving glucose from the blood into cells. Until now, scientists have been unable to explain how it achieves its task.

The study of proteins on a very large scale is known as proteomics. Proteomics is what has allowed this discovery to take shape in how insulin works on cells in the body.

Proteins communicate through a process known as phosphorylation. Phosphate molecules are deliberately added to proteins in order to convey information.

Each of the protein types in a cell has up to 20 potential ‘phosphorylation sites’. The authors discovered almost 40,000 phosphorylation sites on nearly 6,000 different proteins, 15% of which changed in response to insulin.

“Until this study, we did not really appreciate the scale and complexity of insulin regulation,” said lab leader Professor David James. “When insulin is released from the pancreas after we eat, it travels to cells and initiates a cascade of protein phosphorylation, literally millions of interactions, some instantaneous, some taking minutes or hours. The process is so precise and intricate, and at the same time so monumental in its scope, that it’s truly astounding.”

Another key protein in the role of insulin signaling is SINI1. SINI1 influences other proteins, specifically Akt. “Akt not only plays a role in diabetes, but also in cancer and other diseases, and the discovery of SIN1 phosphorylation gives us useful new insights into how Akt actually functions in a cell.”

Although this is a very lay interpretation of a tremendously sophisticated process, it’s a good place to start with understanding where to rectify some of the misgivings that have the trickle-down effect of diabetes.

Act now on Akt and see where research takes us.

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