Researchers demonstrate transmission of diabetes symptoms via prion-like mechanism

August 1, 2017, Rockefeller University Press
A large protein aggregate (green) forms in a pancreatic islet (red) from a transgenic mouse injected with extract containing misfolded IAPP. Credit: Mukherjee et al., 2017

Researchers from McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston have discovered that the symptoms of diabetes can be induced by a misfolded form of a pancreatic protein. The findings, which are reported in a paper to be published August 1 in The Journal of Experimental Medicine, raise the possibility that type 2 diabetes can be transmitted by a mechanism similar to prion diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (mad cow disease).

More than 27 million Americans suffer from type 2 diabetes, a condition in which the body is unable to regulate using the hormone insulin. Though the has been linked to a variety of genetic and environmental risk factors, what causes type 2 diabetes is still not completely understood.

Over 90% of type 2 diabetes patients show abnormal deposits in their that are mainly aggregates of a misfolded form of a protein called islet amyloid polypeptide (IAPP). The precise role of these IAPP aggregates in type 2 diabetes is unclear, but they may damage and kill the pancreatic β cells that secrete insulin in response to elevated blood glucose levels. In this respect, type 2 diabetes could be similar to other diseases caused by misfolded protein aggregates, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and prion disorders.

A key feature of these diseases is that a small number of misfolded protein aggregates can serve as "seeds" that induce the misfolding of additional proteins until they form large aggregates capable of damaging the cell. In the case of , these seeds can even be transmitted from one individual to another.

Claudio Soto and colleagues at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston found that injecting small amounts of misfolded IAPP aggregates induced the formation of protein deposits in the pancreases of mice expressing human IAPP. Within weeks, these mice developed several symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes, including a loss of pancreatic β cells and elevated blood glucose levels. Small amounts of misfolded IAPP could also induce the formation and accumulation of large IAPP aggregates in pancreatic islets isolated from healthy human donors.

Misfolded IAPP can therefore induce protein aggregation and disease similarly to infectious prion proteins, but Soto cautions that it is much too soon to conclude that type 2 diabetes can be transmitted between individuals. "Considering the experimental nature of the models and conditions utilized in this study, the results should not be extrapolated to conclude that type 2 diabetes is a transmissible disease in humans without additional studies," Soto says.

Although there is anecdotal evidence of patients developing diabetes after organ transplantation, no epidemiological studies have been done to assess whether type 2 diabetes is a transmissible disease, the researchers note.

"Until now, this concept has not been considered," Soto says. "Our data therefore opens up an entirely new area of research with profound implications for public health. Perhaps more important than a putative inter-individual transmission, the prion-like mechanism may play a key role in the spreading of the pathology from cell to cell or islet to islet during the progression of type 2 ."

Explore further: Researchers find mechanism that clears excess of protein linked with Type 2 diabetes

More information: Mukherjee et al., 2017. J. Exp. Med. DOI: 10.1084/jem.20161134

Related Stories

Researchers find mechanism that clears excess of protein linked with Type 2 diabetes

July 19, 2014
People with Type 2 diabetes have an excess of a protein called islet amyloid polypeptide, or IAPP, and the accumulation of this protein is linked to the loss of insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells.

Amyloid formation may link Alzheimer disease and type 2 diabetes

February 17, 2015
The pathological process amyloidosis, in which misfolded proteins (amyloids) form insoluble fibril deposits, occurs in many diseases, including Alzheimer disease (AD) and type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2D). However, little is ...

Amyloid plaques in Alzheimer's and diabetes: Novel leads for inhibitors

September 24, 2015
When proteins change their structure and clump together, formation of amyloid fibrils and plaques may occur. Such 'misfolding' and 'protein aggregation' processes damage cells and cause diseases such as Alzheimer's and type ...

Early detection of Alzheimer's disease made possible by analyzing spinal fluid

March 20, 2014
Researchers have shown that they can detect tiny, misfolded protein fragments in cerebrospinal fluid taken from patients. Such fragments have been suggested to be the main culprit in Alzheimer's disease. The findings reported ...

Recommended for you

Physical exercise reduces risk of developing diabetes: study

February 20, 2018
Exercising more reduces the risk of diabetes and could see seven million fewer diabetic patients across mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, according to new research.

Some viruses produce insulin-like hormones that can stimulate human cells—and have potential to cause disease

February 19, 2018
Every cell in your body responds to the hormone insulin, and if that process starts to fail, you get diabetes. In an unexpected finding, scientists at Joslin Diabetes Center have identified four viruses that can produce insulin-like ...

Researchers discover link between gut and type 1 diabetes

February 19, 2018
Scientists have found that targeting micro-organisms in the gut, known as microbiota, could have the potential to help prevent type 1 diabetes.

Researchers find existing drug effective at preventing onset of type 1 diabetes

February 15, 2018
A drug commonly used to control high blood pressure may also help prevent the onset of type 1 diabetes in up to 60 percent of those at risk for the disease, according to researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz ...

Chemist designs diabetic treatment minus harmful side effects

February 9, 2018
A chemist in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) has figured out how to control glucose levels in the bloodstream without the usual side effects of nausea, vomiting or malaise.

Peptide improves glucose and insulin sensitivity, lowers weight in mice

February 8, 2018
Treating obese mice with catestatin (CST), a peptide naturally occurring in the body, showed significant improvement in glucose and insulin tolerance and reduced body weight, report University of California San Diego School ...

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.