May 30 (UPI) -- An enzyme once thought to regulate cells may actually help regulate energy and weight gain, a new study says.
The daily fluctuation of Nocturnin has a direct molecular link with energy regulation within the body, according to research published Thursday in Nature Communications. The researchers made the discovery during an experiment with lab mice.
"The realization that Nocturnin works in this manner will guide our thinking about sleep, oxidative stress and metabolism, and eventually may serve as a step toward finding better treatments for metabolic diseases," Alexei Korennykh, an associate professor of molecular biology at Princeton University who was the study's lead author, said in a news release.
For some time, researchers thought Nocturnin activated and deactivated metabolism within cells by lowering certain cellular messages made up of ribonucleic acid, or mRNAs.
During this study, researchers figured out that Nocturnin can't degrade RNAs, rather it controls certain metabolites that help produce energy and keep cells safe from damage.
The study revealed that Nocturnin takes away a phosphate group from NADP+ and NADPH, two molecules that help the cell to regulate reactive oxygen species levels. These work to damage cells and signal molecules that control fat storage and metabolism.
Getting rid of the phosphate group creates NAD+ and NADH, two important molecules that help produce energy by breaking down glucose and other energy-rich biomolecules.
During the experiment, the researchers observed that mice lacking Nocturnin made less insulin and were less prone to fatty liver disease and weight gain than normal mice.
The researchers figured Nocturnin is the first discovered enzyme to conduct this reaction on NADP+ and NADPH from mitochondria.
"It is tempting to propose that one physiologic function of Nocturnin could be to maximize available NAD+ and NADH for energy generation in a search for food, using the elevated blood sugar that animals have at the time of awakening," Korennykh said. "Our work shows that even in the age of genomics and personalized medicine, basic biology still remains to be understood."