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Study finds inadequacies in insulin production lead to obesity

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Obesity increases the chance of a sugar metabolism imbalance and potentially diabetes. A study group at the University of Basel has recently demonstrated that the contrary is also true: inadequacies in the body’s insulin production contribute to obesity.

Poor nutrition, too little movement and too many pounds on the scale — lifestyle influences the risk of metabolic diseases like diabetes. But the relationship works the other way round as well, as a research group led by Dr. Daniel Zeman-Meier of the university’s Department of Biomedicine and the University Hospital of Basel reports. If insulin production is compromised, as is the case in the early stages of type 2 diabetes, this can contribute to overweight. The findings of the study were published in the journal Nature Communications.

When hormone activation goes awry

The research team focused on protease PC1/3, a key enzyme in the body that transforms various inactive hormone precursors into the final, active forms. If this enzyme isn’t functioning properly in a person, the result can be severe endocrine disorders. The consequences include a feeling of uncontrollable hunger and severe overweight.

“Until now, it was assumed that this dysregulation is caused by a lack of activation of satiety hormones,” explains the study’s leader, Dr. Zeman-Meier. “But when we turned off PC1/3 in the brains of mice, the animals’ body weight did not change significantly.” The researchers concluded from this that something other than a brain malfunction must be responsible.

In their next step, they tested whether overweight could be caused by incorrect activation of other hormones. PC1/3 activates insulin, among other things. Insulin plays a key role in the regulation of blood sugar and fat metabolism. “Investigating the role of insulin production as a cause of overweight was obvious,” says Dr. Zeman-Meier. The researchers shut off PC1/3 specifically in the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas in mice. The animals consumed significantly more calories and soon became overweight and diabetic.

  1. An important mechanism in humans.

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