A new study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, has revealed just how little is known about diabetes and the causes of the disease. The study published by Johns Hopkins researchers has revealed that genes are influenced by the environment to trigger diabetes.
“It’s well known that most common diseases like diabetes result from a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors. What we haven’t been able to do is figure out how, exactly, the two are connected,” said Andrew Feinberg, M.D., M.P.H., Gilman Scholar and director of the Center for Epigenetics in the Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “This study takes a step in that direction.”
The researchers used obesity as a starting point to investigate the epigenetic influence of diabetes and found clear epigenetic difference between obese and normal mice. Some sites that bore chemical tags called methyl groups in the lean mice were missing them in the obese mice, and vice versa. The methyl groups prevent genes from making proteins.
The same pattern was found in obese and lean humans.”It’s likely that when food supplies are highly variable, these epigenetic changes help our bodies adapt to temporary surges in calories. But if the high-calorie diet continues over the long term, the same epigenetic pattern raises the risk for disease.”
The research findings also confirm that some of the epigenetic changes associated with obesity affect genes known to raise diabetes risk. Others affect genes involved in regulating metabolism. “This study yielded a list of genes that previously have not been shown to play a role in diabetes,” said Wong, another study author. “In further tests, we showed that at least some of these genes indeed regulate insulin action on sugar uptake; they offer insights into new potential targets for treating type 2 diabetes.”
Michael L. Multhaup, Marcus M. Seldin, Andrew E. Jaffe, Xia Lei, Henriette Kirchner, Prosenjit Mondal, Yuanyuan Li, Varenka Rodriguez, Alexander Drong, Mehboob Hussain, Cecilia Lindgren, Mark McCarthy, Erik Näslund, Juleen R. Zierath, G. William Wong, Andrew P. Feinberg. Mouse-Human Experimental Epigenetic Analysis Unmasks Dietary Targets and Genetic Liability for Diabetic Phenotypes. Cell Metabolism, 2015; 21 (1): 138 DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2014.12.014