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ADVANCE Discourse: Lab

"Missing Link"

Published April 7, 2014 1:36 PM by Michael Jones

Type 2 diabetes has been a growing concern in the United States for several years. While the established research has pointed to two specific hormones, glucagon and insulin, as the primary factors leading to the development of the disorder in patients, researchers have discovered a third key player in a recent news release from Johns Hopkins. The Johns Hopkins scientists discovered that Kisspeptin 1 (K1), a hormone typically associated with puberty and fertility, directly influences and interferes with the production of insulin in the pancreas.

“Glucagon and insulin alone never really made complete sense,” said Mehboob Hussain, MD, lead investigator, endocrinologist and metabolism expert at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. “There was always something missing and, we feel, kisspeptin 1 is a very good candidate to be that missing part. All of our findings point in this direction.”

According to the release, the general opinion prior to the discovered impact of K1 was that the slow build-up of blood sugar due to elevated levels of glucagon eventually tired out the pancreatic beta cells responsible for insulin secretion. Instead, it seems that, rather than the cells slowly wearing out, high glucagon triggers the production of K1, which targets the cells and suppresses the secretion of insulin, leading to the high blood sugar and low insulin levels associated with the disorder. In experiments with human blood and liver cells and eventually mice, once the Johns Hopkins researchers rendered their livers incapable of producing K1, the levels of insulin and blood sugar returned to normal.

“Our findings suggest that glucagon issues the command, but K1 carries out the orders,” explained Hussain. “And, in [doing so,] it appears to be the very cause of the declining insulin secretion seen in type 2 diabetes.

Additionally, Hussain and his colleagues speculated that the evolution of K1 arose from the need to prevent dramatic decreases in blood sugar during fight-or-flight situations. This research, while still in its preliminary stages, has offered a third key component in the assessment of type 2 diabetes and the possibility of a new method of treatment for the disorder. Rather than treating as needed with the injection of insulin, the disorder could potentially be cured by limiting and even eliminating the production of K1. 

2 comments

Is there any medication available to suppress k1 production?

Ofelia Casillas, Retired April 18, 2014 7:32 AM
Miami FL

I'm confused.  The article states that low insulin levels are typically found in Type 2 diabetes.  In my experience and from everything I've read, insulin levels tend to run high in type 2 diabetes.  The problem is that the cells become resistant to the effects of insulin, so the body produces an ever increasing amount of insulin to overcome the resistance.

Type 1 is associated with low levels of insulin.

Please clarify.  Thanks.

Rosemary April 17, 2014 11:27 AM
Jamestown KY

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