Scientists have identified the role of NGF receptors on beta cells: NGF receptors play a role in a signaling pathway that controls blood sugar. The findings, reported in Developmental Cell, would have implications in the treatment of type-2 diabetes.
Type-2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. It occurs when the body resists the effects of insulin or does not make enough insulin. High blood pressure is the hallmark of type-2 diabetes. It is estimated that one in 10 persons in the USA will be diagnosed with type-2 diabetes.
Insulin is produced by beta-cells in the pancreas. There is evidence that neurons and beta-cells have something in common. In fact, these two types of cells both have signaling receptors for neurotrophins.
Leader researcher Rejji Kuruvilla, a biologist at Johns Hopkins University, have been studying the development of the peripheral nervous system. Neurotrophins such as nerve growth factor [NGF] are a family of proteins that induce the survival, development, and function of neurons. In this study, Kuruvilla mainly looked at NGF.
Kuruvilla was wondered why beta-cells have NGF receptors. Kuruvilla and colleagues found that high blood sugar stimulates NGF secretion by blood vessels in the pancreas, which in turn causes beta-cells to release insulin into the blood. Notably, beta-cells also produce NGF, but it was the NGF released from the blood vessels that is required for insulin secretion.
Mouse experiments showed that the NGF signaling pathway is essential to boost insulin secretion and glucose tolerance. What’s more, NGF can also boost insulin secretion in human beta-cells. The data indicated that neurotrophins help control insulin secretion.
However, whether the pathway is impaired in patients with diabetes and in pre-diabetic persons remains to be answered. Further research will focus on this tissue.
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