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Possible Genetic 'Switches' for Blood Sugar Control Detected
Date:11/2/2010

TUESDAY, Nov. 2 (HealthDay News) -- A new genetic analysis has uncovered specific regions in the DNA of certain human pancreatic cells that appear central to the regulation of insulin and other functions of the pancreas.

The new effort -- conducted by researchers at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) -- takes scientists a step closer towards understanding the complex genetic underpinnings of insulin deficiency and the onset of type 2 diabetes, which accounts for most of the 23 million cases of diabetes among Americans and the more than 170 million cases worldwide.

By honing in on clusters of hormone-producing pancreatic cells known as islets, the investigators were able to detect about 18,000 "molecular on-off switches" (or so-called "promoters") that control gene behavior. Several hundred of these gene-adjacent switches were previously unknown.

In a U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) news release, study co-author Michael Stitzel explained that previous gene-mapping work has pointed out some genetic differences between type 2 diabetic and non-diabetic individuals in specific regions of the genome.

"But substantial efforts are required to understand how these differences contribute to disease," he said. "Defining regulatory elements in human islets is a critical first step to understanding the molecular and biological effects for some of the genetic variants statistically associated with type 2 diabetes."

Stitzel and colleagues from the NIH Intramural Sequencing Center, Duke University in Durham, N.C., and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor report their findings in the Nov. 3 issue of Cell Metabolism.

The new work has also enabled the authors to identify another 34,000 regulatory "modules" located slightly farther away (than the 18,000 on-off switches) from the genes they control. They believe that these distinct "regulatory elements" may be critical to proper blood g
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