A study conducted by scientists related to Pew’s biomedical programs revealed a chain of molecular events that can lead to Type 2 diabetes in people who are obese. Gökhan Hotamisligil, a 1997 Pew biomedical scholar, and Ana Arruda, a 2010 Pew Latin American fellow, led the investigation.
“While it is well-established that obesity generates cellular and molecular stress leading to abnormal functioning of many cellular processes, the mechanisms remain incompletely understood,” Hotamisligil said in a press release.
The new study, published in Nature Medicine, examined the consequences of physical contact between organelles within cells. Specifically, the research team was interested in the effect when the mitochondria—or cellular “powerhouse”—touched the endoplasmic reticulum, which folds and transports proteins throughout the cell.
The researchers found significantly more points of contact between the two organelles in obese mice, resulting in more calcium being transferred to the mitochondria. That influx led to cellular stress, which in turn made the mice more sensitive to developing Type 2 diabetes.
After disrupting the interactions between the mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum, the researchers observed metabolic improvements in obese mice. Their findings could lead to treatments to stave off diabetes in humans.