A class of proteins known for its involvement in muscle development, brain connectivity, and cancer has now been found in the liver, where it spurs sugar production when we need it most.
The proteins, called histone deacetylases (HDACs), activate genes by hopping onto a section of DNA and helping switch on or off its transcription into RNA. They are the desired target of many potential drugs currently in development. The new study, published May 13, 2011, in the journal Cell, is the first to show that some of these HDACs play an important role in diabetes.
The findings suggest that drugs that block some forms of HDACs could curb the sky-high levels of blood sugar in people with diabetes. Several HDAC inhibitors are currently being evaluated in clinical trials as potential treatments for cancer.
“Because of their potential use in different cancers, the whole area [of HDAC drug development] has just exploded,” says lead investigator Reuben Shaw, an HHMI early career scientist and assistant professor of molecular and cell biology at Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. “We now have reason to believe that some of the same types of drugs tested in the cancer setting might have potential to treat diabetes.
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