"The compounds are predominantly found in dairy products such as milk, cheese and meat, and are formed by bacteria in ruminants that take linoleic acids ?fatty acids from plants ?and convert them into conjugated linoleic acids, or CLA," says Jack Vanden Heuvel, professor of molecular toxicology in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences and co-director of Penn State's Center of Excellence in Nutrigenomics.
Researchers first became interested in CLA when it was shown to inhibit a variety of cancers such as breast, skin and colon in mice, and further research showed effects on circulating cholesterol and inflammation. These effects are the same as the newest generation of synthetic drugs used to treat diabetes in humans.
These synthetic drugs act by triggering a set of nuclear receptors called PPAR. In addition to being targets for a variety of clinically effective drugs, PPARs belong to a large family of proteins, and their biological purpose is to sense fatty acids and fatty acid metabolites within the cell, says Vanden Heuvel.
When the synthetic drugs interact with these protein receptors, it turns the receptor "on," making it an active form of the protein, which then interacts with DNA and regulates gene expression. This increases the enzymes that process fatty acids and also increases the tissues' sensitivity to insulin.
"We wondered if CLA was using the same mechanism, in which case it could be used as an anti-diabetes drug," Vanden Heuvel says.
To test the idea, he used CLA on mice prone to adult onset (Type-2) diabetes. Results indicated that the mice had an improvement in in