In a collaborative study between the universities of Edinburgh and Ljubljana, researchers scanned the genomes of mice that were inbred to become either extremely lean or overweight for causal genes for their metabolic phenotype. They discovered a gene highly expressed in lean mice that may protect them against the effects of a high-fat diet. The results of this study may translate to a potential new drug target for Type 2 diabetes patients.
Nik Morton of the University of Edinburgh and Simon Horvat of the University of Ljubljana along with their respective teams published their work in the journal Nature Medicine.
The protective gene found in these lean mice codes for a protein called TST that is known to detoxify harmful waste products that build up in fat cells during high-fat diet feeding.
By breeding another strain of lean mice that produced high levels of TST in fat cells, these mice resisted metabolic syndrome on exposure to a high-fat diet. The mice not only lost weight but were also protected from developing Type 2 diabetes.
After trying out a drug in mice that activates TST, the researchers noted while the mice hadn’t lost weight during the study, it had reduced the severity of diabetes in the mice that received the drug.
"Gaining this unique insight into the genes of healthy leanness could lead to a completely new approach to treating diabetes associated with obesity," said Morton in a release.
Thiosulfate is a drug that boosts TST levels and was first used 80 years ago as an antidote for cyanide poisoning. The authors of this study say this therapy would need to be further developed to be used in patients with diabetes.