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Are yeast cells bringing us a step closer in treating obesity?


For the first time, researchers from the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) connected with the Catholic University of Leuven have shown clearly that receptors in yeast cells detect and react to nutrients in the cell. The chance is great that this is also the case with human cells. Because about 40% of today’s medicines act on receptors in our cells, this research opens new possibilities for the treatment of metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity.

Detecting sugars in the cell

Every living thing is composed of cells, which communicate with each other and the external world by means of receptor proteins on the cell membrane. These proteins receive signals from outside the cell by binding themselves with particular substances (such as hormones), which then produces a reaction by the cell to regulate processes internal or external to the cell. A number of medicines play on this cellular operation to produce beneficial responses for our health. Now, for the first time, Katleen Lemaire and her colleagues, under the direction of Johan Thevelein of VIB and the Catholic University of Leuven, have discovered receptor proteins in yeast cells that detect and react to glucose and sucrose.

The detection of glucose, the transport sugar in the blood, is of major importance for all the cells in the body. Glucose is not only absorbed and metabolized by the cells - it also regulates many cellular reactions. When too much or too little glucose is present in the blood - as in diabetes, for example - this process can break down. The discovery that receptor proteins react to sugars like glucose is very important to the search for treatments for metabolic diseases. Indeed, these proteins could be good targets for new medicines to compensate for the surplus or shortage of a particular sugar.

Yeast as model for humans

The VIB scientists are conducting their research on yeast proteins. It often turns out that the proteins found in yeast have a similar variant in human cells. This makes yeast an excellent model organism for learning more about mechanisms in humans and animals. There has long been a question about whether mammals have glucose receptors. The discovery of such receptors in yeast considerably raises the possibility of their existence in human beings.

Given that this research can raise a lot of questions for patients, we ask you to please refer questions in your report or article to the email address that VIB makes available for this purpose: Everyone can submit questions concerning this and other medically-oriented research directly to VIB via this address.

Sooike Stoops | EurekAlert!
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