Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy, a professor of chemistry and of biophysics, says a protein called amylin forms dense clumps that shut down insulin-producing cells, wreaking havoc on blood sugar control, but zinc may help prevent amylin from misbehaving.
In healthy people who have normal levels of zinc in the insulin-producing islet cells of the pancreas, amylin pitches in to help with blood sugar regulation, and an analog -- chemical compound similar to a nature substance -- of amylin called Symlin is used in conjunction with insulin to manage blood sugar levels in diabetics, Ramamoorthy says.
Amylin is helpful because zinc acts like a security guard at a rock concert, whose job is to keep fans from turning troublesome and destructive, Ramamoorthy says. But in a zinc-starved cellular environment of a patient with type 2 diabetes, amylin has no watchful guard to rein it in and it is free to clump together with other amylin molecules in the molecular equivalent of a gang, Ramamoorthy explains.
The findings are published in the Journal of Molecular Biology.