Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas say the hormone -- adiponectin -- has been traced to a number of biological processes.
"Until now, there wasn't really an obvious connection between all these different phenomena," senior author Dr. Philipp Scherer says in a statement. "This paper shows that the common theme among all these different activities relies on adiponectin's interaction with a specific subset of lipids known as ceramides."
The study, published online in advance of print in Nature Medicine, links adiponectin to a group of lipid molecules known as ceramides that promote cell suicide in both pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin and cardiomyocytes located in a part of the heart known as the myocardium.
Scherer, who discovered adiponectin in 1994, explains this study finds introducing adiponectin into cells triggers the conversion of ceramides from a destructive force -- known for instance to sabotage signaling pathways induced by insulin and killing beta cells -- into one helping cells survive and inhibiting cell death.
"Adiponectin essentially provides a makeover of this ugly cousin," Scherer says.