Developing and using inhibitors to examine the role of O-GlcNac post-translational modification of proteins on glucohomeostasis and beta-cell adaptation

Type 2 diabetes develops when our bodies are unable to properly regulate blood glucose levels. Normally, blood glucose levels are carefully maintained at optimal levels through the finely-orchestrated action of pancreatic beta cells, as well as insulin-responsive tissues. These tissues must be able to sense and rapidly respond to changes in glucose levels; when this system is disrupted, type 2 diabetes develops. Researchers know that glucose is central in regulating insulin synthesis and secretion, but how this occurs remains only partly understood. Dr. David Vocadlo is studying the role of a single sugar unit known as O-GIcNAc, which is installed by the enzyme OGTase and removed by the enzyme O-GlcNAcase, that is believed to act as a glucose sensing mechanism that triggers cells to adapt to their nutrient environment. While this mechanism is generally seen as an important process in maintaining health, disruption of this process can lead to extended periods of abnormal O-GIcNAc levels, and may cause some diabetes-related health problems. By developing and using inhibitors of both the O-GlcNAcase and OGTase enzymes, how O-GIcNAc acts in nutrient sensing will be addressed. Dr. Vocadlo’s research may prove useful in correcting problems in glucose sensing among type 2 diabetes patients.