Friday 24 February 2012

Does diabetes start in the intestines?

The findings of an interesting paper by Wei and colleagues* (full-text) pose a question: are the origins of diabetes in the intestines?

For those that don't know too much about diabetes, here is a link that should help. The concise version (if there is such a thing) is that diabetes normally manifests as either type-1 diabetes or type-2 diabetes with insulin being the key compound in controlling blood sugar, and corresponding issues either with its production or when resistance is built up to it.

The crux of the paper by Wei et al is that an insulin-responsive super enzyme called fatty acid synthase (FAS) involved in lipogenesis is also involved in gut barrier regulation through its action on Mucin 2 (Muc2), a gel-forming component of mucus. The authors' suggestion is that becoming resistant to insulin is associated with issues with FAS and correspondingly problems with mucus in the gut, inflammation and diabetes. No pressure then.

The paper summarised (deep breath):

  • Several groups of mice were included for study: (a) mice with chemically-induced (tamoxifen induction of Cre recombinase) decreases of FAS protein and mRNA, (b) mice bred with inactivated FAS in the intestine and (c) control germ-free mice. For group (b) mice, diabetes was induced by administration of streptozotocin, a toxin to the beta cells which produce insulin in the pancreas.
  • Assays looking at gut bacteria, intestinal permeability, cytokine release and protein S-palmitoylation were used to investigate various parameters.
  • The findings: a chemically-induced deficiency of FAS in mice started a cascade of events linked to inflammation. One of the primary cytokine markers of this inflammation was elevated levels of TNF-α although animals were also noted to show weight loss and other gastrointestinal symptoms. A quarter of these mice actually died within 14 days.
  • The authors deduced that although some changes were noted to the intestinal bacterial makeup of FAS reduced mice, these changes were not enough to cause the inflammation observed but rather were as a result of the inflammation. They demonstrated this via a previously discussed method on this blog, bacterial transplantation; in this case to the germ-free mice (group c) who did not show the accompanying inflammation as a result of their donor bacteria. That is not however to say that gut microbiota did not have some effect, as per the reduction in inflammation noted in the FAS deficient mice following administration of the antibiotics ciprofloxacin and metronidazole.
  • The link between FAS deficiency and Muc2 was evidenced by the lower levels of Muc2 shown in FAS deficient mice and reduced inner mucus layer thickness in the colon of affected mice. 
  • Looking at the inactivated FAS (group b) diabetic mice, a similar pattern of issues with Muc2 and reductions in the mucus layer was seen alongside penetration of bacteria indicating intestinal hyperpermeability (leaky gut). Interestingly, insulin supplementation seemed to positively affect some of the permeability issues.

This is quite a complicated paper and so please do not take my summary as gospel. It is intriguing that inflammation is at the heart of their theory and in particular, inflammation as a result of not having enough FAS present in the gut with the knock-on effects on gut permeability. Indeed not for the first time has it been suggested that diabetes and leaky gut are connected as per articles like this one. Makes you wonder also about any other possible dietary inter-related connections?

* Wei X. et al. Fatty acid synthase modulates intestinal barrier function through palmitoylation of mucin. Cell Host & Microbe. February 2012.
DOI:  10.1016/j.chom.2011.12.00


  1. Hi Paul - yes, I found this to be a complex paper as well! Though, I think, a really important one. I summarized it as well on my blog:

    I like your thoughts on the linkage between diabetes and leaky gut. If established, this link could really change some of the diagnostic categories of current medicine. Hmm.

  2. Many thanks for the comment Kristina. I do think your blog entry says things more eloquently than mine - it is nice to see that we both arrived at similar conclusions (particularly the insulin - permeability issue).

    I know that gut hyperpermeability is still seen as a little 'complementary' in some quarters but studies like this really start to bring it more mainstream.

    I think slowly this change is coming, and alongside the trillions of other bacterial factors, the gut might start being brought into the research fold outside of just overt GI issues and conditions.

  3. Hi Paul Your Post Very Nice............

    CRE Recombinase- GenTarget Inc - CRE Recombinase, from bacteriophage P1, catalyzes recombination between 34 base-pair target sequences, called lox sites. Purified CRE enzyme can join individual plasmids containing lox sites.