The hair-like cilia on pancreatic beta cells are covered with insulin receptors and play an important role in insulin secretion, insulin signaling, and glucose metabolism, report researchers from Europe (Gerdes JM et al. Nat Commun. 2014;5:5308). For the almost 400 million people living with type 2 diabetes, this may represent a novel pathway for treatment.
In addition to showing that the number of insulin receptors on beta cells’ cilia increase when stimulated with glucose, the investigators also demonstrated that mice with few or defective cilia experience reduced insulin release and significantly elevated blood glucose levels. Furthermore, pancreatic islets in a rat model of type 2 diabetes had a roughly 3-fold reduced number of ciliated beta cells along with misregulated ciliary gene expression. Previous research has indicated that impaired glucose tolerance and even type 2 diabetes are common in individuals with ciliopathies, such as Alström syndrom, that are characterized by ciliary dysfunction.
Hampton T. Cilia Dysfunction May Promote Development of Type 2 Diabetes. JAMA. 2015;313(1):20. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.17620