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A can of worms: researchers discover a new trigger for a stress pathway involved in diabetes

May 20, 2014
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Scientists at the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics and the Child and Family Research Institute have uncovered a new cellular trigger for a stress response that plays an important role in causing diabetes.

The findings, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, bring researchers one step closer to understanding how cells maintain the delicate balance between components such as fatty acids and proteins in a way that promotes normal development and prevents sickness.

The team, led by Dr. Stefan Taubert, conducted genetic, molecular and pharmacological experiments on a small worm, Caenorhabditis elegans. “The worm is a great experimental animal model,” says Dr. Taubert, “because they share many aspects of human biology, and because we can control their genetics.”

The new study shows that the lipid composition of cell membranes can activate a stress response that was previously thought to be only activated by proteins. These results suggest a new role for lipid metabolism, and have important implications for diseases that are associated with dysfunctional stress responses, such as diabetes.

“By providing new insights into how our cells handle various forms of stress, we generate new knowledge that is highly relevant for diseases – both because a faulty stress responses can be the cause of disease, such as in the case of diabetes, and because it can serve as a potential drug target, for example in some cancers,” says Dr. Taubert.

“Even when studying the worm, we can provide new insights that may lead to novel diagnostics and therapeutics in humans.”

For more information:

Activation of the ER unfolded-protein response by lipid  disequilibrium without disturbed proteostasis in vivo. Hou, N.S. et al. PNAS, 2014.