U.S. biologists have found that a key protein used to regulates the biological clocks of mammals also regulates glucose production in the liver, and that altering the levels of this protein can improve the health of mice with diabetes.
Their discovery could potentially provide an entirely new biochemical approach for scientists to develop treatments for obesity and Type 2 diabetes. It also raises the question whether some of the rise of diabetes in the western world can be attributed to disturbances in sleep-wake cycles from our busy lifestyles.
Disturbance in sleep cycles
"We know that mice that don't have good biological clocks tend to develop diabetes and obesity," said Steve Kay, Dean of the Division of Biological Sciences at UC San Diego and one of the lead authors of the research study.
"And we know that mice that have developed diabetes and obesity tend not to have very good biological clocks. This reciprocal relationship between circadian rhythm and the maintenance of a constant supply of glucose in the body had been known for some time. But what we found that's so significant is that a particular biological clock protein, cryptochrome, is actually regulating how the hormone that regulates glucose production in the liver works in a very specific way."
Beneficial treatments still a long way off
Dr Victoria King, Head of Research at Diabetes UK, said: “This interesting research suggests, and goes some way in explaining why, increasing the amount of a certain molecule, Cry1, can improve insulin sensitivity in mice with diabetes. This area of research is worth pursuing as there could well be a possibility of developing beneficial treatments for people with Type 2 diabetes, although this would be a long way off. It would be wrong, also, to draw any firm conclusions regarding disturbances in sleep patterns and the development of Type 2 diabetes based on these findings alone.
“Previous studies into people’s weight and sleep patterns have linked reduced sleep to Type 2 diabetes and obesity. Indeed, some laboratory-based studies have demonstrated that getting only four hours’ sleep a night might affect brain function, appetite and glucose metabolism. The level of sleep deprivation in these studies, however, is not particularly representative of the amount of sleep most of us could be missing out on.
“What we can be sure of is that eating a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight and being more physically active can help to reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes as well as help people with the condition to manage it more effectively, and lower the likelihood of developing serious complications."