Earlier studies from the team began using pancreatic beta cells as a model to study microtubule function, to explore how microtubules traffic cargo such as insulin granules from the cell interior to the periphery. Using compounds to destroy the microtubules, the lab stimulated the pancreatic islets with glucose and measured how much insulin was secreted. With the delivery highways missing, they expected to see a reduction in insulin secretion; instead, they observed a strong increase in secretion. The current study shows that is in fact microtubules that negatively regulate insulin secretion in beta cells.
The current study took out microtubules in mice and showed that both glucose-stimulated insulin secretion and glucose clearance from the blood increased compared to mice with intact microtubules. The researchers also found that the microtubule meshwork was more dense in beta cells from mice with diabetes, compared to control mice. The lab state that the findings suggest that in response to the increased demand for insulin in diabetes, microtubules become more dense and less dynamic as a feedback mechanism, ultimately shutting down beta cell function.
To validate this the team applied super-resolution microscopy techniques to show that in beta cells, microtubules do not form highway-like tracks; instead, they form a complex mesh. Results show that the insulin granules ‘walk’ randomly on the microtubule mesh, and the microtubules regulate the number of granules at the cell periphery to prevent over-secretion. Data findings show that glucose destabilizes microtubules just inside the cell surface to release the microtubule hold on insulin granules and allow secretion.
The team surmise that there is an association between anti-cancer therapies that target microtubules and increased risk of diabetes in treated patients. They go on to add that their study suggests that cancer treatments that stabilize microtubules may reduce insulin secretion and promote diabetes. For the future, the researchers state they are investigating how glucose regulates microtubule dynamics, they are also interested in studying human islets from patients with diabetes. They go on to conclude that such islets have usually lost the ability to secrete insulin, and, therefore, it may be possible to restore insulin secretion by manipulating microtubule dynamics.
Source: Vanderbilt laboratories
Michelle is a health industry veteran who taught and worked in the field before training as a science journalist.
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