Hormone in fruit flies sheds light on diabetes cure, weight-loss drug for humans

August 9, 2012

Manipulating a group of hormone-producing cells in the brain can control blood sugar levels in the body – a discovery that has dramatic potential for research into weight-loss drugs and diabetes treatment.

In a paper published in the October issue of Genetics and available online now, neurobiologists at Wake Forest University examine how fruit flies (Drosophila) react when confronted with a decreased diet.

Reduced diet or starvation normally leads to hyperactivity in fruit flies – a hungry fly buzzes around feverishly, looking for more food. That happens because an enzyme called AMP-activated kinase stimulates the secretion of the adipokinetic hormone, which is the functional equivalent of glucagon. This hormone acts opposite of insulin, as it tells the body to release the sugar, or food, needed to fuel that hyperactivity. The body uses up its energy stores until it finds food.

But when Wake Forest's Erik Johnson, an associate professor of biology, and his research team turned off AMP-activated kinase, the cells decreased sugar release and the hyperactive response stopped almost completely – even in the face of starvation.

"Since fruit flies and humans share 30 percent of the same genes and our brains are essentially wired the same way, it suggests that this discovery could inform metabolic research in general and diabetes research specifically," said Johnson, the study's principal investigator. "The basic biophysical, biochemical makeup is the same. The difference in complexity is in the number of cells. Why flies are so simple is that they have approximately 100,000 neurons versus the approximately 11 billion in humans."

Medical advances as a result of this research might include:

Diabetes research: Adipokinetic hormone is the insect equivalent to the hormone glucagon in the human pancreas. Glucagon raises ; insulin reduces them. However, it is difficult to study glucagon systems because the pancreatic cells are hard to pull apart. Studying how this similar system works in the fruit fly could pave the way to a drug that targets the that cause glucagon to tell the body to release sugar into the blood – thus reducing the need for insulin shots in diabetics.

Weight-loss drugs: An "exercise drug" would turn on all AMP-activated kinase in the body and trick the body into thinking it was exercising. "Exercise stimulates AMP-activated kinase, so manipulation of this molecule may lead to getting the benefits of exercise without exercising," Johnson said. In previous research published in the online journal PLoS ONE, Johnson and his colleagues found that, when you turn off AMP-activated kinase, you get that "eat a lot more than normal flies, move around a lot less, and end up fatter."

Explore further: Researchers discover protein that may represent new target for treating type 1 diabetes

More information: www.genetics.org/content/early/2012/07/10/genetics.112.143610.full.pdf+html

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Multifaceted genetic impact of training

September 23, 2016

Endurance training changes the activity of thousands of genes and give rise to a multitude of altered DNA-copies, RNA, researchers from Karolinska Institutet report. The study, which also nuances the concept of muscle memory, ...

Controlling cell-fate decisions

September 23, 2016

Rafal Ciosk and his group at the FMI have identified an important link between the Notch signaling pathway and PRC2-mediated gene silencing. They showed that a fine balance between epigenetic silencing and signaling is crucial ...

Unravelling the genetic mystery behind mitochondrial disease

September 15, 2016

Researchers from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute in Melbourne have identified two new genes linked to a major cause of mitochondrial disease. Their research opens the way for better genetic diagnosis of the disease ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.