An illustration of the Baf60c-Deptor-AKT signaling pathway identified as a target of myocyte glucose sensing that augments muscle insulin action. (Source: Stephanie King/LSI)
Sugar has a wide range of effects on the human body. It appeals to your taste buds, floods your brain with feel-good chemicals, and provides you with a rush of energy. Your body is designed to respond to sugar by releasing insulin from the pancreas. In fact, the pancreas can actually sense when your sugar levels are rising and produce insulin to help sugar enter your body’s cells. According to a new study from the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute, your muscles can also sense when you’re eating sugar.
Skeletal muscles have a unique, previously undiscovered glucose-sensing mechanism that helps your body to regulate blood sugar levels. This mechanism is separate from your body’s insulin response. In fact, the muscles’ ability to sense and absorb glucose makes your body more effective at controlling blood sugar.
The researchers found there is a gene, BAF60C, that plays a role in the muscles’ ability to sense and control glucose. When they remove the BAF60C from mice, the mice were unable to dispose of the excess glucose provided via a high-fat diet. The mice’s natural insulin mechanisms proved insufficient at handling the overload.
But the control group mice, the ones with the BAF60C gene, had no problem tolerating the high-fat diet. Their bodies were able to regulate and dispose of extra blood sugar. The molecular pathway in the muscles reacted similarly to the pancreas, working with the insulin to absorb and utilize the excess glucose in the bloodstream.
How does this help you? Short of genetic testing to determine if you have the BAF60C gene or not, the research may not seem useful. But think about how this could improve the health of diabetics and pre-diabetics in the future. If the presence of the BAF60C gene helps the body to more effectively absorb and use glucose, it could provide researchers with further insights into how to control excessive glucose levels.
This discovery helps to explain how some diabetes drugs (such as sulfonylureas) prove more effective at controlling blood sugar than others. By understanding how the skeletal muscles work with the pancreas to absorb and regulate glucose levels, researchers may be able to develop treatments that enable muscles to use more glucose. This discovery, though it may seem small, is one step closer to conquering diabetes once and for all.
1. Zhuo-Xian Meng, Jianke Gong, Zhimin Chen, Jingxia Sun, Yuanyuan Xiao, Lin Wang, Yaqiang Li, Jianfeng Liu, X. Z. Shawn Xu, Jiandie D. Lin. “Glucose Sensing by Skeletal Myocytes Couples Nutrient Signaling to Systemic Homeostasis.” Molecular Cell, 2017; 66 (3): 332.