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Protein Has Power Over Cells

Diabetes research is again booming with the recent discovery from New Orleans that suggests the molecular mechanism of how a protein determines the fate of the cells that make and release insulin.

Michael Lan, PhD discovers that INSM1 has a critical role in the development of pancreatic beta cells, the only cells in the body that is known for its insulin-secreting function. Dr. Lan is a professor of pediatrics and genetics at LSU Health Sciences Center.

Located in the islet cell clusters throughout the pancreas, the destruction or dysfunction of these islet cells causes type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes results from the body’s inability to utilize insulin properly and the gradual decrease in the pancreas’ ability to make it.

Using pancreatic cancer cells to investigate the effects of INSM1 on cell cycle function, researchers developed an inducible system to “turn on” INSM1 in pancreatic cancer cells and found that it resulted in a significant reduction in the cells’ growth rate.

The study reveals that the mechanism for this growth inhibition was due to an interaction between INSM1 and cyclin D1, an important cell growth promoting protein.

“Through the interaction between these two proteins, the growth of the tumor cells was impaired. Also, transplantation of these INSM1 on pancreatic tumor cells into mice showed the growth rate of these tumor cells was significantly inhibited compared to the control cells,” according to study authors.

INSM1 is a transcription factor—a protein that binds to specific sequences of DNA and controls the target gene expression or action. “Taken together, we provide evidence to support that INSM1 binds to cyclin D1, a critical factor in cell growth, and interrupts normal cellular proliferation,” notes Dr. Lan. “Our study furthers our understanding of how to control islet cell growth in the culture system, which may ultimately benefit diabetes.”

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