Sugar rush shrinks brain cell powerhouse

February 25, 2016, Yale University
Credit: Human Brain Project

The spike in blood sugar levels that can come after a meal is controlled by the brain's neuronal mitochondria, which are considered the "powerhouse of cells," Yale School of Medicine researchers found in a new study.

Published in the Feb. 25 issue of the journal Cell, the findings could provide a better understanding of how type 2 diabetes develops.

Blood are thought to be primarily controlled by the pancreatic hormone insulin, the liver, and the muscles. This new study, however, highlights a crucial role for mitochondria in a small subset of neurons of the in systemic glucose control.

The study was designed to explore how neurons in the brain adapt to the glucose "rush." The researchers were surprised to find that not only do mitochondria of neurons "feel" the change in circulating glucose levels, but that adaptive changes in these same mitochondria are at the core of the body's ability to handle sugar in the blood. To test this point, the research team generated several mouse models in which a specific mitochondrial protein called uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2) was either missing or present in varying amounts in the subset of brain cells that sense circulating sugar levels.

"We found that when sugar increases in the body, mitochondria in subsets of brain neurons rapidly change their shape and their function is altered," said senior author Sabrina Diano, professor in the Departments of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, Neuroscience, and Comparative Medicine.

Diano said what surprised the research team is not that these changes occur in response to glucose, but that these seemingly subtle adjustments in a "housekeeping" cellular event in a handful of has such a powerful impact in circulating glucose levels by affecting many peripheral tissue functions.

"The findings imply that alterations in this mechanism may be crucial for the development of metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, in which the body is not able to clear the blood from high levels of sugar that occur after meals," said Diano, who is also director of the Reproductive Neurosciences Group and a member of the Program in Integrative Cell Signaling and Neurobiology of Metabolism at Yale School of Medicine.

Diano and her team will focus their future research on assessing whether alteration of this mitochondrial mechanism in the brain is involved in the development and propagation of type 2 diabetes.

Explore further: Glucose 'control switch' in the brain key to both types of diabetes

Related Stories

Glucose 'control switch' in the brain key to both types of diabetes

July 28, 2014
Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have pinpointed a mechanism in part of the brain that is key to sensing glucose levels in the blood, linking it to both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The findings are published in the ...

Unraveling the link between diabetes and the brain

April 7, 2015
When diabetes strikes, the brain is not the first thing that comes to mind.

Clues to curbing obesity found in neuronal 'sweet spot'

August 1, 2014
Preventing weight gain, obesity, and ultimately diabetes could be as simple as keeping a nuclear receptor from being activated in a small part of the brain, according to a new study by Yale School of Medicine researchers.

Factors in the blood during dieting may have anti-diabetes properties

January 6, 2016
Factors in the blood from calorie-restricted rats can modify energy-producing mitochondria within the insulin-producing cells that regulate blood sugar levels, new research shows. This has a positive impact on glucose-stimulated ...

Targeting glucose production in liver may lead to new diabetes therapies

September 3, 2015
High blood sugar is a defining characteristic of Type 2 diabetes and the cause of many of the condition's complications, including kidney failure, heart disease, and blindness. Most diabetes medications aim to maintain normal ...

New strategy to lower blood sugar may help in diabetes treatment

September 3, 2015
Some treatments for type 2 diabetes make the body more sensitive to insulin, the hormone that lowers blood sugar. But new research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests a different strategy: slowing ...

Recommended for you

Precision neuroengineering enables reproduction of complex brain-like functions in vitro

November 14, 2018
One of the most important and surprising traits of the brain is its ability to dynamically reconfigure the connections to process and respond properly to stimuli. Researchers from Tohoku University (Sendai, Japan) and the ...

Gene mutation found to cause macrocephaly and intellectual deficits

November 13, 2018
The absence of one copy of a single gene in the brain causes a rare, as-yet-unnamed neurological disorder, according to new research that builds on decades of work by a University at Buffalo biochemist and his colleagues.

Can scientists change mucus to make it easier to clear, limiting harm to lungs?

November 12, 2018
For healthy people, mucus is our friend. It traps potential pathogens so our airways can dispatch nasty bugs before they cause harm to our lungs. But for people with conditions such as cystic fibrosis (CF) and chronic obstructive ...

Scientists uncover new gatekeeper function of anti-aging molecule

November 12, 2018
The protein klotho has been shown to promote longevity and counteract aging-related impairments. Having more klotho seems to allow for longer and healthier lives, whereas a depletion of this molecule accelerates aging and ...

Mutations, CRISPR, and the biology behind movement disorders

November 12, 2018
Scientists at the RIKEN Center for Brain Science (CBS) in Japan have discovered how mutations related to a group of movement disorders produce their effects. Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the ...

Researchers explain how your muscles form

November 12, 2018
All vertebrates need muscles to function; they are the most abundant tissue in the human body and are integral to movement.

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.