Scientists have created the first comprehensive roadmap of the interactions that enable cells in the pancreas to produce, store and secrete the insulin, reports say.
The findings allow for a better understanding of the insulin secretion process—and how it fails in insulin disorders such as type 2 diabetes. Boosting or repairing insulin production and secretion is an obvious strategy for combating type 2 diabetes, however, there are few available drugs aimed at improving the efficiency of the process because so few details are known about it.
“The development of this insulin interaction map is unprecedented, and we expect it to lead us to new therapeutic approaches for type 2 diabetes,” said William E. Balch, senior author of the study.
The study, published online by Cell Reports, involved isolating insulin proteins out of special pancreatic cells called “beta cells” using antibodies that bound to early and late forms of the hormone. In doing so, the researchers were also able to isolate additional proteins that had bound to the insulin, which was viewed to imply functional interaction in the insulin creation process.
Examination using mass spectrometry allowed researchers to identify these proteins, effectively establishing the insulin-interacting proteins within beta cells and distinguishing those which play a role in the early, insulin-synthesis phase of the process from those that seem to function in the later stages of insulin storage and secretion.
Balch, professor and member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at The Scripps Research Institute, said the roadmap showed that insulin is the dominant protein in the beta cell and that the activity within the beta cell is mainly focused on producing and secreting insulin. A better understanding of the processes behind insulin production will undoubtedly allow for the development of better therapies for type 2 diabetes.
“We think that the discovery of this protein’s role in insulin secretion represents a big breakthrough,” Balch said.