Scientists Have Found an Enterovirus that Causes Diabetes Type 1

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diabetes type 1 enterovirus
Image- stanias (pixabay.com)

Diabetes is a metabolic condition that causes high sugar levels inside the blood. Diabetes type 1 is caused by an autoimmune reaction where the body starts attacking its own cells considering them foreign bodies. It eventually kills the cells that secrete hormones which make insulin. Diabetes has no such connection with a pathogenic virus but the new study has outlined the possibility of getting diabetes type 1 from a type of enterovirus.

This new enterovirus is termed as coxsackievirus B type 4 (CVB4) and is identified in mice. This study is published in Cell Reports Medicine.

This new study may explain if SARS-CoV-2 which is behind the currently on-going pandemic can also trigger a chronic metabolic disease like diabetes or not.

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The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), explains diabetes as a metabolic condition that changes the body’s capacity to change glucose from food into energy. When a person eats or drinks, it adds up as glucose molecules in his blood. Insulin, a hormone released from the pancreas that acts upon sugar and helps its conversion to energy.

But if a person has diabetes, this food to energy conversion doesn’t remain the same as the hormone insulin is not produced or overproduced. More than  90–95% of diabetic patients have Type 2 diabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association diabetes type 2 and type 1 both are linked with a number of risk factors including genetic as well as environmental. But new research reveals another risk factor for diabetes type 1 that is enteroviruses. It is a class of viruses that are linked with a number of respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurological conditions.

The research team working on this experiment tried to understand how a virus can increase the risk for a metabolic condition. For that, they conducted a series of experiments on lab mice which were grafted with the pancreatic cells from human sources that had this virus.

They found that not just one or two but this risk is linked with a number of factors.

This infection caused by enterovirus plays a role in downregulating a protein called URI which governs a number of functions of a cell. Downregulating this protein results in triggering a number of molecular events eventually it ends up silencing the Pdx1 gene. This gene is responsible for controlling beta cells inside the human pancreas which make insulin.

Dr. Nabil Djouder from the Spanish National Cancer Research Center is the lead researcher and author of this study. He explains that the silencing of the Pdx1 gene causes dysfunction of beta cells in the pancreas and makes them act like alpha cells. alpha cells work on increasing the sugar levels in the blood so when all cells act like alpha cells, the blood glucose levels spike and cause hyperglycemia and diabetes type 1. The risk increases even more if there are other genetic or environmental factors involved. But even if they aren’t involved, this mechanism can work independently.

This study clearly shows a relation between the URI protein and the Pdx1 gene. It is an unusual and casual link that increases the chances of diabetes type 1 during an enterovirus infection.

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