Fat can function as a signal substance in the body and activate a receptor in the cells of organs like the heart and liver, say Swedish researchers from Lund. They maintain that this research offers new opportunities for understanding the genesis of diabetes.
The Lund scientists' discovery involves a receptor for fats, or rather a whole family of receptors that are activated by short, medium-length, and long fatty acids. They have dubbed these receptors FFARs (free fatty acid receptors).
The fact that fats can function as signal substances to activate events inside the cell is an entirely new insight, write the scientists. The newly discovered receptors have a clear connection with diabetes: they are influenced by modern anti-diabetes drugs (so-called glitazones), and they exist on the surface of cells of precisely those organs that are involved in sugar metabolism: the liver, muscles, heart and pancreas.
This new role for fat was discovered by a team of researchers headed by Professor Christer Owman and Associate Professor Björn Old of the Wallenberg Neuroscience Center at Lund University, Sweden.
"The discovery of FFAR can provide a new explanation for the connection between fat and diabetes," said Professor Christer Owman. He hopes the research breakthrough will help to clarify the dual role of fats in the body, being both essential to life and potentially damaging.
The research team has also been able to demonstrate that the newly discovered receptors also occur in the brain. In this context, write the scientists, there are possible connections to the importance of fats in the development of the brain and of brain disorders like Parkinson's disease.
Full findings are published in a recent edition of Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, 'A human cell surface receptor activated by free fatty acids and thiazolidinedione drugs.'