A protein called amylin can turn off the cells that make insulin, making it hard for diabetics to control their blood sugar. Zinc has the ability to keep amylin from causing this harm, according to a study that will appear in the Journal of Molecular Biology.
"Zinc stops damage from diabetes."
Amylin has both a good side and a bad side. When a person is healthy and has normal amounts of zinc in the cells that make insulin, amylin actually helps control blood sugar, explains Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy, professor at the University of Michigan and one of the study's authors.
However, if a person does not have enough zinc in their cells, then amylin turns dangerous. It will form into dense clumps, eventually leading to the formation of fibrils - which have been linked to a number of diseases.
In their study, Ramamoorthy and colleagues found that zinc attaches to amylin molecules and stops them from forming into harmful clumps. In other words, zinc keeps the amylin under control.
But just like amylin, zinc can play multiple roles. When zinc is playing its "security guard" role, it attaches to the middle part of the amylin molecule. However, when there is too much zinc and the middle positions are already taken, zinc will attach to a different part of the molecule. When zinc is attached to this second part, it fights against the helpful effects of the zinc in the middle position.
Put simply, zinc stops the harmful effects of amylin. However, if there is too much zinc around it can do the opposite.
Now that they now that amylin can become toxic, Ramamoorthy and colleagues want to do more studies to see exactly how it becomes toxic.
These future studies could lead to new treatments for patients suffering from type 2 diabetes.