New study finds vitamin A has role in insulin producing beta cells

by Barbara Hewitt on June 27, 2017

A new study has found a link between diabetes and vitamin A, which scientists believe could improve the function of insulin producing beta cells.

The team from the Lund University Diabetes Centre in Sweden discovered that insulin producing beta-cells contain a large quantity of a cell surface receptor for vitamin A.


‘When we discovered that insulin cells have a cell surface expressed receptor for vitamin A, we thought it was important to find out why and what the purpose is of a cell surface receptor interacting with vitamin A mediating a rapid response to vitamin A,’ said Albert Salehi, senior researcher.

The researchers believe that vitamin A plays an important role for the development of beta cells in the early stages of life, but also for a proper function during the remaining life especially during pathophysiological conditions, i.e some inflammatory conditions.

The team, together with colleagues at the University of Gothenburg, King’s College London and the Oxford Centre for Diabetes, have mapped 220 different receptors on the surface of the beta cell, whose features are still not fully known. One of the findings is the cell surface expressed receptor for vitamin A.

In order to study the role of the vitamin in cases of diabetes, the researchers worked with insulin cells from mice and non-diabetic and type 2 diabetic donors. By partially blocking the vitamin A receptor and challenging the cells with sugar, they could see that the cells’ ability to secrete insulin deteriorated.

‘We saw close to a 30 per cent reduction,’ Salehi said, adding that impaired cell survival and insulin secretion are key causes of type 2 diabetes. The same tendency could be seen when comparing insulin cells from type 2 diabetic donors. Cells from patients with type 2 diabetes were less capable of insulin secretion compared with cells from people without diabetes.

The researchers also saw that the beta-cells’ resistance to inflammation decreases in the absence of vitamin A. In case of a complete deficiency, the cells die. The discovery may also be significant for certain types of type 1 diabetes when the beta cells are not sufficiently developed during the early stages of life.

‘In animal experiments it is known that new born mice need vitamin A to develop their beta cells in a normal way. Most likely, the same applies to human beings. Children must absorb a sufficient amount of vitamin A through their diet,’ Salehi explained.

In the event of a diabetes treatment based on the newly found cell surface receptor for vitamin A, Salehi believes that the risk of excessive intake makes the vitamin A itself inappropriate.

‘We’re trying to find substances such as small molecules or peptides that are similar to the vitamin A could activate the newly found receptor while lacking the unwanted effects of vitamin A, he added.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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