Fat Hormone Controls Diabetes

A small protein produced by fat cells appears to regulate blood sugar levels, potentially revealing a new way to treat diabetes.

May 8, 2013
Edyta Zielinska

WIKIMEDIAThe small protein aP2, thought to only be involved in shuttling lipids throughout fat cells, is actually excreted outside the cell where it acts as a long range signaling molecule or hormone, controlling glucose levels, according to new research published this week (May 7) in Cell Metabolism. The findings suggest a new target for treating obesity-related diabetes. 

“It was surprising to find that a critical hormone playing a pathological role in diabetes turned out to be the secreted form of aP2, which for decades has been considered a protein that resides inside the fat cells,” senior author Gökhan Hotamisligil from Harvard School of Public Health said in press release.

The protein aP2 occurs in the blood of obese individuals at much higher levels than in lean individuals, although it is also secreted by fat tissues during times of fasting. To test whether the protein controls glucose retention, the researchers first increased the levels of aP2 in normal mice and saw that the animals were less capable of controlling their glucose levels. When the team performed the reverse experiment, reducing aP2 in obese mice to the levels seen in lean mice using an antibody against the protein, glucose metabolism appeared more similar to that of lean mice.

The group hopes that the antibody could help treat diabetes and have licensed the technology to the biopharmaceutical company Union Chimique Belge in Belgium for development.