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Diabetes Health Center

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Brain Link Seen in Type 2 Diabetes

Glucose Problems in Certain Brain Cells May Be a Red Flag of Type 2 Diabetes Risk
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 29, 2007 -- The early warning signs of type 2 diabetes may include subtle changes in some brain cells, a new study shows.

The study comes from researchers including Harvard Medical School's Bradford Lowell, MD, PhD.

They studied mice, not people, but the findings may hold important clues about the roots of type 2 diabetes.

In type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t respond properly to insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes in adults.

Lowell's team studied certain brain cells called POMC neurons in mice. Usually, those brain cells are sensitive to glucose (blood sugar).

But when the researchers put the mice on a high-fat diet, the mice became obese -- and their POMC neurons became less sensitive to glucose.

That drop in glucose sensitivity may play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes, Lowell and colleagues write in today's online edition of the journal Nature.

The study doesn't prove that type 2 diabetes begins in the brain. Type 2 diabetes has been shown to affect just about every part of the body, and it's not clear exactly how or where it starts.

Looking for a take-home message from Lowell's study? It might be to keep an eye on your weight. After all, the mice lost some of their mental glucose sensitivity after they went on a high-fat diet and became obese.

That doesn't mean that all obese people get type 2 diabetes or that everyone with type 2 diabetes is obese.

But since type 2 diabetes makes heart disease, stroke, and many other health problems more likely -- and because type 2 diabetes often goes undiagnosed -- it may be worth discussing with your doctor, especially if you've seen the numbers on your scale notch upwards.

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