There is a complicated relationship between stress and health in the human body. Now, researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich have found that a protein that is located in muscle tissue can act to promote diabetes. This discovery, which was reported in Nature Communications, could open up new avenues in the treatment of metabolic diseases like diabetes.
It has been known for some time that a protein called FKBP51 is linked to anxiety and stress disorders. The protein plays a role in how the stress system is regulated, and when that regulation becomes dysfunctional, mental illness can arise. The scientists were surprised to find another function of this protein - it links the metabolic processes of the body with the regulation of stress.
"FKBP51 influences a signaling cascade in muscle tissue, which with excessive calorie intake leads to the development of glucose intolerance, i.e., the key indicator of diabetes type 2," explained the leader of the project, Mathias Schmidt.
When we consume a diet that is unhealthy, or high in fats, it causes stress in the body. When there is an increased level of FKBP51 synthesis in the muscle, the body responds by reducing how much glucose gets absorbed. That can then lead to obesity and diabetes.
For this work, the scientists developed mice that lacked the FKBP51 protein. Incredibly, these mice did not show weight gain and had increased glucose tolerance when they were fed a high-fat diet. When the action of FKBP51 is halted, diabetes does not develop, even when there is stress on the body or too many calories are being eaten. When there is less FKBP51 in muscle tissue, glucose intolerance is reduced; normal metabolism is this maintained.
Felix Hausch (presently at University of Darmstadt) created antagonist compounds that pharmacologically stop FKBP51 when he was at the Max Planck Institute. Working with scientists from the Technical University Darmstadt, these compounds are now slated to be tested and developed so they will eventually make their way to clinical trials.
"These findings may provide a completely new treatment approach for diabetes and other metabolic diseases," commented Alon Chen, the Director at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry.
Learn more about the effects of stress on the body, which include an increase in inflammation (which can lead to obesity) from the above video.