A group of stem cell researchers from the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) and Burnham Institute for Medical Research (Burnham) have found that type 2 diabetes is associated with a signalling pathway that is involved in normal pancreatic development.
Revealing their findings online in Experimental Diabetes Research, the researchers said that they could provide a potential new target for therapy.
The team's study showed that the Wnt signalling pathway is up-regulated in insulin producing cells of pancreases from adults with type 2 diabetes.
"It is now clear that progenitor cells, with the capacity to become insulin producing cells, reside in the adult pancreas," said Dr. Pamela Itkin-Ansari, assistant adjunct professor at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and Burnham.
"The key to harnessing those cells to treat diabetes is to understand the signaling pathways that are active in the pancreas under both normal and disease conditions. In the course of that research we found that Wnt signaling activity, which plays a critical role in the development of the pancreas, re-emerges in type 2 diabetes," the researcher added.
The researchers describe the Wnt signaling pathway as a series of protein interactions that control several genes that play a role in normal development, as well as cancer, in many tissues.
In the current study, they compared the expression of different proteins in the Wnt pathway in the pancreas from adults with type 2 diabetes and those from healthy individuals.
It was observed that cells from those without the disease had low levels of beta-catenin, a protein that enters cell nuclei and activates certain genes.
The researchers also found that beta cells from people with type 2 diabetes had increased levels of the protein.
According to them, the activation of the Wnt pathway also up-regulates the expression of c-myc, which has been implicated in the destruction of insulin-producing beta cells.
Given that Wnt signalling was apparent in obese mice well before they developed symptoms, the researchers believe that it may be an important factor leading to Type 2 diabetes.