A common symptom of diabetes is low blood sugar, which is now suspected of exacerbating diabetic eye disease. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have connected low blood sugar levels with a molecular pathway that is ignited in oxygen-starved eye cells.
The new research was published in the January issue of Cell Reports and was conducted with both human and mouse eye cells grown in a low-sugar laboratory environment.
Akrit Sodhi, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Ophthalmology at the Branna and Irving Sisenwein Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said, “Temporary episodes of low glucose happen once or twice a day in people with insulin-dependent diabetes and often among people newly diagnosed with the condition. Our results show that these periodic low glucose levels cause an increase in certain retinal cell proteins, resulting in an overgrowth of blood vessels and worsening diabetic eye disease.”
The researchers discovered low glucose levels in human and mouse retinal cells resulted in a variety of molecular alterations that manifest as blood vessel overgrowth. Low glucose decreases retinal cells’ ability to break down glucose for energy.
The most preventable cause of blindness in the United States is eye disease among people with diabetes. One-third of people with diabetes have diabetic retinopathy, marked by the overgrowth of abnormal blood vessels in the retina. Patients with diabetic retinopathy might be especially vulnerable to phases of low glucose, so keeping glucose levels steady is an imperative aspect of glucose control.
The researchers continue to examine whether low glucose levels in diabetics might impact similar molecular pathways in other organs, such as the kidneys and brain.
Thanks to this novel research, scientists are one step closer to developing new treatments for diabetic eye disease.
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