Newly discovered brain neurons may help treat diabetes

Researchers have recently made a significant discovery regarding neurons in the brain that can detect and respond to changes in blood sugar levels. This finding has the potential to provide valuable insights into how our brains regulate blood sugar and could lead to new therapeutic approaches for metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity. The study, published in the journal Diabetes on June 22, sheds light on a subset of neurons located in the hypothalamus that can sense and react to sugar in the bloodstream, similar to pancreatic cells that produce insulin.

The researchers conducted real-time monitoring of both blood sugar levels and hypothalamic neuron activity in conscious mice. They observed that when blood sugar levels increase, the activity of these specific neurons decreases rapidly. It is speculated that these neurons detect and respond to changes in blood sugar levels transmitted by sensory neurons associated with the vasculature, rather than relying on slower changes in sugar levels within the brain itself. This sensory information is then transmitted to one or more neurocircuits that work in conjunction with the pancreas to regulate blood sugar levels through insulin production.

From a clinical perspective, this finding is significant because in the treatment of patients with diabetes, it is often observed that their bodies actively maintain elevated blood sugar levels because the brain perceives it as the norm. For instance, a patient with diabetes may have a blood sugar level above 300, whereas the normal range is around 100. If the blood sugar is suddenly lowered back to 100, the brain interprets it as being too low and initiates mechanisms to raise the blood sugar level again.

The impaired ability of the brain to accurately sense blood sugar levels in diabetes suggests that future interventions targeting this sensing defect may enable the brain to better regulate blood sugar levels. By restoring the brain’s ability to perceive blood sugar appropriately, it may be possible to achieve more effective blood sugar control in individuals with diabetes. This discovery opens up exciting possibilities for advancing our understanding of metabolic diseases and developing novel therapeutic strategies in the future.

Source: University of Washington School of Medicine

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