NOT JUST THE PANCREAS: another player responsible for blood sugar regulation

Subtitle: researchers uncover surprising connection between the brain and blood sugar regulation, opening new therapeutic perspectives for diabetes and obesity

Recent research has shed light on a remarkable discovery in the field of blood sugar regulation. According to a new study, our brains play a significant role in detecting and regulating blood sugar levels. This finding offers a fascinating insight into how our brains influence metabolism and presents new therapeutic possibilities for addressing metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity.

Until recently, it was believed that the pancreas was the primary actor responsible for this essential regulation. However, a new study published in the journal Diabetes, by the American Diabetes Association, demonstrates that there is another key player in this complex process: our brains.

A team of researchers from the University of Washington School of Medicine and the UW Medicine Diabetes Institute made a remarkable breakthrough. They identified a subgroup of neurons located in our hypothalamus that not only detect variations in blood sugar levels but also actively respond to these changes.

Dr. Michael Schwartz, an endocrinologist and co-director of the UW Medicine Diabetes Institute, explains, “We have known for a long time that many neurons can detect sugar within the brain. What surprised us in this research is the fact that a subgroup of neurons located in the hypothalamus can sense and respond to sugar in the bloodstream, similar to the cells in the pancreas that secrete insulin.”

In the study, researchers were able to monitor real-time blood sugar levels and neuronal activity in the hypothalamus of conscious mice. They observed that when blood sugar levels rise, the activity of this subgroup of neurons rapidly decreases. Although the exact mechanism is not fully understood, it is hypothesized that these neurons detect and respond to variations in blood sugar transmitted by sensory neurons supplying the vasculature. This sensory information is then transmitted to one or more neurocircuits that control blood sugar levels in collaboration with the pancreas, which produces insulin.

The clinical significance of this discovery lies in the fact that when treating patients with diabetes, doctors often find that the patients’ systems maintain elevated blood sugar levels because the brain perceives this as the normal range. Dr. Schwartz explains, “For example, if a normal blood sugar level is 100, a patient with diabetes may have a blood sugar level above 300. If it has been at that elevated level for days or weeks, and if you suddenly lower it back to 100, the brain will perceive that as too low and will try to increase the blood sugar level again.”

This discovery suggests that diabetes may be associated with an impaired ability of the brain to sense blood sugar levels. In the future, researchers hope that reversing this type of sensing defect may enable the brain to control blood sugar levels in a more appropriate manner.

The newfound discovery opens up new avenues for research and the development of targeted therapies that focus on the neurocircuits involved in blood sugar regulation. This could lead to more effective and precise methods for treating metabolic conditions such as diabetes and obesity.

In conclusion, this groundbreaking discovery highlights the crucial role our brains play in blood sugar regulation and provides new therapeutic perspectives for diabetes and obesity treatment. Researchers continue to investigate the precise mechanisms through which these neurons and brain neurocircuits control blood sugar, paving the way for medical innovations and a better understanding of the complexity of our metabolic system.

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