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Immune system and metabolism

Immune protein associated with obesity and T2DM

Discovery could lead to news treatments for type 2 diabetes

Researchers from King's College London, UK, have found a key mechanism in the immune system that plays a part in the development of type 2 diabetes. The findings, which were published in the Cell Metabolism, could lead to new treatment methods and prevention of the disease.

"This is just the start,” said lead author of the study Dr Jane Howard from King’s. ”The idea that the immune system can impact on metabolism is very exciting, but more research needs to be done before we can bring this work from the bench to the bedside for the benefit of patients."

The researchers, who wanted to investigate the molecules responsible for the association between obesity and diabetes, studied mice which were genetically engineered to lack T-bet, a protein which regulates the differentiation and function of immune cells.

They found that the mice had improved insulin sensitivity despite being obese and that the intra-abdominal fat of these mice had fewer immune cells and was less swollen than that of regular mice.

They also discovered that by moving immune cells that had no T-bet to younger, skinnier mice, the insulin sensitivity improved. This suggests that obesity can be uncoupled from insulin resistance, through the absence of T-bet.

"When T-bet was absent this altered the relationship between fat and insulin resistance: the mice had more intra-abdominal fat but were actually more sensitive to the glucose lowering effects of insulin,” said Howard. “As fat accumulation in the abdomen is typically associated with worsening insulin resistance and other features of the metabolic syndrome, the findings seen were both unusual and unexpected."

Although more trials are needed to pinpoint other molecules in the pathway of action of T-bet, giving specific immune cells as immunotherapy to better insulin resistance could be developed as a possible future therapy.

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