Johns Hopkins logoDiabetes is a disease occurring in innumerable people across the globe. Scientists from Johns Hopkins have apparently found a considerable elevation of the enzyme O-GlcNAcase in the red blood cells of people with diabetes and prediabetes. The finding may lead to a simple, routine test for identifying the subtle onset of the disease, even before the occurrence of symptoms or complications and may aid to avoid the disease.

According to the conclusions draw by pilot studies, it appears that the enzyme O-GlcNAcase is up to two to three times higher in people with diabetes and prediabetes than in those with no disease. A huge difference especially in the tightly regulated enzyme was noted by the experts. Previous analysis seemingly displayed the way an ample but difficult-to-detect sugar switch known as O-GlcNAc responded to nutrients and stress.

The scientists claimed to be already aware of the fact that this minute molecule increased in the red cells of patients with diabetes. Therefore in this research, the scientists concentrated on understanding if the elevation took place in the earliest stages of diabetes and can probably have value as a diagnostic tool.

Kyoungsook Park, a graduate student of biological chemistry working in Hart’s lab affirmed, “When I checked the enzyme levels and saw how dramatically different they were between the prediabetic cells and the controls, I thought I did something wrong. I repeated the test five times until I could believe it myself.”

While conducting the research, Park aimed to understand the levels of O-GlcNAcase the enzyme extracting O-GlcNAc in red cells. The scientists enlightened that O-GlcNAc alters most of the cell’s proteins. This enables the O-GlcNAc to control their functions in response to nutrients and stress. It has been assumed that nutrients like glucose and lipids elevate the extent of O-GlcNAc modification of proteins, thus affecting their activities. If the extent of O-GlcNAc attached to proteins becomes too high, just like in diabetes, it may be damaging to the cell.

Gerald Hart, Ph.D., the DeLamar Professor and director of biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine added, “This is an example of how basic research is directly affecting a serious disease. Only a much larger clinical trial will determine if, by measuring O-GlcNAcase, we can accurately diagnose prediabetes.”

After depleting hemoglobin from the human red blood cells, Park was able to purify them. He further mentioned that all the samples had been accumulated by the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases, NIDDK, and Johns Hopkins Diabetes Center. The researchers considered the traditional tests that require patients to fast and grouped 36 samples as normal, 13 as prediabetes and 53 as type 2 diabetics.

The normal hemoglobin A1c was seemingly defined with impaired fasting glucose and prediabetes was determined as an intermediate state of altered glucose metabolism with a heightened risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other associated complications. The amount of enzyme protein was then measured and compared within the red cells that are linked with the sugar molecule, O-GlcNAc.

It has been affirmed by Hart that in diabetes and prediabetes elevation in the amount of sugar to be attached to proteins is not good. Therefore, the cell may respond by increasing the enzyme that gets rid of it. Pilot studies call for further investigation of a method that at present exists as an easy, accurate routine test for prediabetes.

The research was published online on April 22 in Diabetes.