Adiponectin Levels could Predict Diabetes, Heart Disease

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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Adiponectin, known as the 'starvation hormone' has been somewhat of a mystery to scientists. A new discovery about how the hormone works could lead to new treatments for a variety of conditions including diabetes, cancer and obesity.

Scientists at UT Southwestern Medical Center found out the "starvation hormone" has multiple roles in the body, leading them to believe measuring levels could predict a person's chances of developing diabetes, heart disease or cancer. They also say the new understanding of adiponectin's role in biological functions could lead to better weight loss treatments.

“Until now, there wasn’t really an obvious connection between all these different phenomena,” said Dr. Philipp Scherer, professor of internal medicine and cell biology and senior author of the study. The findings, published online in Nature Medicine, revealed the "starvation hormone" interacts with a subset of lipids known as ceramides that promote cell suicide, known as aptosis.

The researchers used models of inducible cell suicide in pancreatic cells that make insulin and heart muscle cells. They found when they introduced adiponectin into the cells, ceramides turned from destructive to helpful.

Dr. Scherer, who directs the Touchstone Center for Diabetes Research explains, “Adiponectin essentially provides a makeover of this ugly cousin." High levels of ceramide are known to promote diabetes because they kill cells in the pancreas.

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Dr. William Holland, lead author and postdoctoral fellow in internal medicine says, “One beauty of this study is that the findings are in both animal models and in vitro. We were able to show using these models of apoptosis in the beta cell and the heart that we can protect those cells from cell death with adiponectin.”

Past research shows the “starvation hormone” plays a role in controlling insulin sensitivity and obesity, discovered by Dr. Scherer in 1994. Adiponectin is the hormone that helps the body store excess fat in subcutaneous tissue as a protection against starvation.

As more fat is stored, adiponectin levels become lower and the body starts storing fat in the organs where it produces inflammation that could lead to heart and liver disease, cancer and diabetes. Overall, the new findings “endorse the idea that adiponectin is very important and is probably a key manipulator of lipid levels,” Dr. Scherer said.

Understanding the role of the “starvation hormone” should lead to better treatment for conditions like diabetes, weight loss, heart disease and cancer. The new study sheds light on the importance of adiponectin for cell survival and lipid metabolism that was previously unknown to researchers.

Nature Medicine: doi:10.1038/nm.2277

This page updated May 25, 2013

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