Whereas insulin is necessary to combat high blood glucose levels, a different hormone is necessary to manage low ones: glucagon. This hormone helps to regulate glucose production and absorption bringing glucose levels back into an acceptable range.
A recent study from researchers at Baylor University and other institutions found that there is a specific group of neurons in the brain that may play an integral role in blood sugar regulation and preventing hypoglycemia. Within the ventrolateral subdivision of the ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus region, there are estrogen receptor-alpha neurons that are also glucose-sensing.
What the researchers found particularly interesting was that half the neurons became more active when blood sugar levels were high (glucose-excited), and the other half became more active when blood sugar levels were low (glucose-inhibited). Furthermore, each group of neurons used a different ion channel to regulate neuronal firing activities. However, they both led to the same result – increasing blood glucose levels when they were low – even though they were activating different circuits in the brain. This leads to a perfect balance in managing blood sugar.
The next step in the study is to investigate whether the fact that all of the neurons in this specific group that expressed estrogen receptors play a role in the glucose-sensing process. In turn, this could lead to more gender-specific studies to determine differences in neuronal function when it comes to blood sugar regulation.
One important factor to note is that all of these studies were conducted on hypoglycemic mice. The researchers did not identify whether the process is believed to be the same in humans.
This is another step forward in better understanding how diabetes affects the body, brain, and functioning. Diabetes Research Connection strives to empower early-career scientists in pursuing novel, peer-reviewed studies related to type 1 diabetes by providing up to $50K in funding. Research is focused on the prevention and cure of type 1 diabetes as well as minimizing complications and improving quality of life for individuals living with the disease. Click to learn more about current projects and provide support.