University of Washington
Mon, 15 Apr 2013 20:23 CDT
© Jiangyu Li/UW
The blue spots in this image show where glucose has halted ferroelectric switching in an elastin protein.
High sugar levels in the body come at a cost to health. New research suggests that more sugar in the body could damage the elastic proteins that help us breathe and pump blood. The findings could have health implications for diabetics, who have high blood-glucose levels.
Researchers at the University of Washington and Boston University have discovered that a certain type of protein found in organs that repeatedly stretch and retract - such as the heart and lungs - is the source for a favorable electrical property that could help build and support healthy connective tissues. But when exposed to sugar, some of the proteins no longer could perform their function, according to findings published online
April 15 in the journal Physical Review Letters.
The property, called ferroelectricity, is a response to an electric field in which a molecule switches from having a positive to a negative charge. Only recently discovered in animal tissues, researchers have traced this property to elastin and found that when exposed to sugar, the elastin protein sometimes slows or stops its ferroelectric switching. This could lead to the hardening of those tissues and, ultimately, degrade an artery or ligament.
"This finding is important because it tells us the origin of the ferroelectric switching phenomenon and also suggests it's not an isolated occurrence in one type of tissue as we thought," said co-corresponding author Jiangyu Li
, a UW associate professor of mechanical engineering. "This could be associated with aging and diabetes, which I think gives more importance to the phenomenon."