Connexins and Diabetes

March 13, 2017

Connexins and Diabetes 

 References: J. Cell Biology, J Biol Chemistry, FEBS Letter

 Connexins. What we learned last week was basic. Connexins are the proteins that make for connections between cells. They exist in every creature with more than a few cells. For multicellular organisms to exist, connexins have to become part of the picture. And the management of fuel for cells in central to an organism that has specialized digestive processes. To have a gut, blood, central nervous system, bones, muscles and everything else means you have to have a centralized control system for fuel allocation. 

That central traffic cop is the pancreas gland with its beta cells. They produce insulin, and insulin is the key hormone used to signal the storage of calories for future use. Traditional medicine calls insulin your blood sugar controlling hormone. A more inclusive vision would be to say that insulin rises in response to rising blood sugars which occurs during the time of year of calorie excess, just before the time of year of calorie deficit. It's a good time to store calories. 

 The storing of calories as insurance against future starvation is a key feature of human survival (and all creatures). That's insulin's job. How do connexins play a part in all that? These articles this month go right to the heart of that role. When you knock out the ability of pancreas beta cells to make connexins, their ability to make insulin drops proportionately. This means for us to have a sensible, balanced, and nuanced control of glucose, we have to have proper connexin function

 What happens in humans when we get overweight and become diabetic? Our fat cells get bigger and we demand more and more insulin to keep glucose in a tight range. We can produce that extra insulin for a while but eventually exhaust our ability to produce sufficient insulin to control blood glucose adequately enough. Glucose is a very reactive chemical. Granted, it is fuel to burn, which is why being reactive helps, but high levels of it stick to all sorts of places where it's not meant to be. And that leads to disease too. 

Our body doesn't like high glucose, and we frantically put out more insulin to regulate that. And what happens when we can't make enough insulin anymore? You got it, the first step is connexons between cells dropping off as we produce fewer and fewer connexins. This makes connexin dysfunction the first step in diabetes development. The ability of our beta cells in our pancreas to talk to each other via their connecting connexins is the first step to developing diabetes. 

 And guess what happens in heart disease, brain disease, muscle disease, kidney disease?.....Name an organ and I can show you references that demonstrate that connexins fall off and connexons (the name for the actual channel between cells) between cells decrease. The level to which all your organ types are connected to each other is the level to which you are healthy. This loss of intracellular connections via these proteins called connexins is the basis of much illness. 

 The $ 64 k question is, what can we do to alter our connexins? Is that something we have control over? And the answer is yes! Next week. 

 www.What will work for me. All right. I've learned that connexins are the protein channels between cells that allow communications between similar cell types, allowing different cells to act as coordinated organs. Muscles can contract together. Liver cells and digest together. Brains can think... etc. Sounds like this is at the heart of the life of multicellular organs. I love getting down to the very basic facts. But I'm eager to know how I can alter it with my own behavior. I guess for that, I have to wait till next week.   

 Pop Quiz: ‪

1. Connexins are the key mechanisms of different cell type to function as independent organs. T or F?      Answer:  Right on. ‪

2. In diabetes, our pancreas beta cells have more connexins functioning with higher blood glucose. T or F ?      Answer  False.     That's backward. ‪

3. Virtually every illness with organ dysfunction can demonstrate lousy connexins of the organ that's not working. T or F?                     Answer:  T.  Isn't that fascinating? ‪

4. Earthworms have connexins. T or F?                           Answer  True. They have muscles that work in a coordinated fashion. That wouldn't happen without those links. 

 ‪5. Our gut has connexins that get discombobulated with gluten. T or F?                       Answer:  Bingo. You intuited that and you were right. Gluten disrupts connexins between gut cells.