Research: High sugar levels can damage body’s elastic proteins

NewsGuard 100/100 Score

High sugar levels in the body come at a cost to health. New research suggests that more sugar in the body could damage the elastic proteins that help us breathe and pump blood. The findings could have health implications for diabetics, who have high blood-glucose levels.

Researchers at the University of Washington and Boston University have discovered that a certain type of protein found in organs that repeatedly stretch and retract - such as the heart and lungs - is the source for a favorable electrical property that could help build and support healthy connective tissues. But when exposed to sugar, some of the proteins no longer could perform their function, according to findings published April 15 in the journal Physical Review Letters.

The property, called ferroelectricity, is a response to an electric field in which a molecule switches from having a positive to a negative charge. Only recently discovered in animal tissues, researchers have traced this property to elastin and found that when exposed to sugar, the elastin protein sometimes slows or stops its ferroelectric switching. This could lead to the hardening of those tissues and, ultimately, degrade an artery or ligament.

"This finding is important because it tells us the origin of the ferroelectric switching phenomenon and also suggests it's not an isolated occurrence in one type of tissue as we thought," said co-corresponding author Jiangyu Li, a UW associate professor of mechanical engineering. "This could be associated with aging and diabetes, which I think gives more importance to the phenomenon."

About a year ago, Li and collaborators discovered ferroelectric switching in mammalian tissues, a surprising first for the field. Ferroelectricity is common in synthetic materials and is used for displays, memory storage and sensors. Li's research team found that the wall of a pig's aorta, the largest blood vessel carrying blood to the heart, exhibits ferroelectric switching properties.

Li said that discovery left researchers with a lot of questions, including whether this property is found in other soft tissues and the health implications of its presence. Observing differences in ferroelectric behavior at the protein level has helped to answer some of those questions.

The research team separated the aortic tissue into two types of proteins, collagen and elastin. Fibrous collagen is widespread in biological tissues, while elastin has only been found in animals with a backbone. Elastin, as its name suggests, is springy and helps the heart and lungs stretch and contract. Ferroelectric switching gives elastin the flexibility needed to perform repeated pulses as with an artery.

When researchers treated the elastin with sugar, they found that glucose suppressed ferroelectric switching by up to 50 percent. This interaction between sugar and protein mimics a natural process called glycation, in which sugar molecules attach to proteins, degrading their structure and function. Glycation happens naturally when we age and is associated with a number of diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis, a thickening and hardening of the arteries.

Source: University of Washington

Comments

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
Post a new comment
Post

While we only use edited and approved content for Azthena answers, it may on occasions provide incorrect responses. Please confirm any data provided with the related suppliers or authors. We do not provide medical advice, if you search for medical information you must always consult a medical professional before acting on any information provided.

Your questions, but not your email details will be shared with OpenAI and retained for 30 days in accordance with their privacy principles.

Please do not ask questions that use sensitive or confidential information.

Read the full Terms & Conditions.

You might also like...
Research validates anti-inflammatory properties of wine using urinary tartaric acid as biomarker