Can our bones protect us against diabetes and obesity?

March 17, 2015 by Julie Langelier, University of Montreal
Can our bones protect us against diabetes and obesity?
Mathieu Ferron, Julie Lacombe, Amélie Germain. Credit: IRCM

A team of researchers at the IRCM led by Mathieu Ferron, PhD, in collaboration with researchers at Columbia University, discovered a new function of the skeleton associated with diabetes and obesity. The scientific breakthrough, published today in the scientific journal The Journal of Cell Biology, reveals how a hormone produced by bones, and controlled in part by vitamin K, can influence the whole body's energy and glucose metabolism.

Dr. Ferron's team studies osteoblasts, the cells responsible for . More precisely, the researchers are interested in a produced by these , called osteocalcin, which is involved in controlling insulin and glucose.

"Our previous work had shown that osteocalcin can improve in diabetic mice," explains Dr. Ferron, Director of the Integrative and Molecular Physiology research unit at the IRCM. "In fact, we demonstrated this hormone increases the production and secretion of insulin by the pancreas, as well as sensitivity to insulin in peripheral tissue such as muscle and body fat."

According to circumstantial evidence within the scientific community, it was suggested that osteocalcin is controlled by gamma-carboxylation, a process that modifies the hormone's function and relies on vitamin K. To confirm or refute this theory, IRCM researchers studied the enzymes that alter osteocalcin and observed the impact they had on glucose. To do so, they examined mice in which the enzymes responsible for gamma-carboxylation or recycling vitamin K had been inactivated specifically in osteoblasts.

"We confirmed that osteocalcin's hormonal activity relies on vitamin K, which in turn participates in the gamma-carboxylation process," adds Dr. Ferron. "More concretely, when this process is inhibited in osteoblasts, osteocalcin becomes more active, which translates into improved and improved sensitivity to insulin that, as a result, protects against type 2 diabetes and obesity."

Combined with their past work, this study allowed the scientists to further understand a new function of the bone, which acts as an endocrine organ by producing a hormone, osteocalcin, to influence energy metabolism and .

"While this breakthrough may seem surprising at first, it shows that the bone is similar to many other organs; it is both a receiver and a transmitter of hormonal signals," concludes Dr. Ferron. "A better understanding of the function of osteocalcin could eventually lead to the development of therapies for type 2 diabetes and obesity that would target vitamin K or gamma-carboxylation in osteoblasts."

Explore further: Exercise can produce healthy chatter between bone, fat and pancreatic cells

More information: "GGCX and VKORC1 inhibit osteocalcin endocrine functions" JCB vol. 208 no. 6 761-776. DOI: 10.1083/jcb.201409111

Related Stories

Exercise can produce healthy chatter between bone, fat and pancreatic cells

September 19, 2011
Cells in bone, fat and the pancreas appear to be talking to each other and one thing they likely are saying is, "Get moving."

Bone hormone influences brain development and cognition

September 26, 2013
Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) have found that the skeleton, acting through the bone-derived hormone osteocalcin, exerts a powerful influence on prenatal brain development and cognitive functions ...

Recommended for you

Genetic changes associated with physical activity reported

December 10, 2018
Time spent sitting, sleeping and moving is determined in part by our genes, University of Oxford researchers have shown. In one of the most detailed projects of its kind, the scientists studied the activity of 91,105 UK Biobank ...

Study may offer doctors a more effective way to treat neuroblastoma

December 7, 2018
A very large team of researchers, mostly from multiple institutions across Germany, has found what might be a better way to treat patients with neuroblastoma, a type of cancer. In their paper published in the journal Science, ...

Progress made in transplanting pig hearts into baboons

December 6, 2018
A large team of researchers from several institutions in Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.S. has transplanted pig hearts into baboons and kept them alive for an extended period of time. In their paper published in the ...

'Chemo brain' caused by malfunction in three types of brain cells, study finds

December 6, 2018
More than half of cancer survivors suffer from cognitive impairment from chemotherapy that lingers for months or years after the cancer is gone. In a new study explaining the cellular mechanisms behind this condition, scientists ...

Hybrid prevalence estimation: Method to improve intervention coverage estimations

December 6, 2018
LSTM's Professor Joseph Valadez is senior author on a new study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which outlines proposals for a more accurate estimator of health data.

World's smallest wearable device warns of UV exposure, enables precision phototherapy

December 5, 2018
The world's smallest wearable, battery-free device has been developed by Northwestern Medicine and Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering scientists to measure exposure to light across multiple wavelengths, from the ...


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.