Lack of molecule in people with type 2 diabetes found to cause vascular injury

New research suggests that topping up a certain molecule in the red blood cells of those with type 2 diabetes may help avoid vascular injuries, including heart attacks.

Type 2 diabetes can offer numerous complications but some of the most concerning include vascular problems such as cardiovascular disease and worse clinical outcomes after cardiovascular events.

It has been implied by the recent study that the shortage of the microRNA-210 molecule in red blood cells could be the reason for type 2 diabetes-induced vascular conditions.

This comes after previous research has found that these red blood cells can change and become malformed in people with type 2 diabetes.

Red blood cells play a vital role, carrying oxygen from lungs to the rest of the body, and carbon dioxide back to the lungs. They also help sustain cardiovascular equilibrium (or homeostasis), including producing nitric oxide (NO).

NO widens blood vessels, and it has been found that people with diabetes are not able to produce as much NO, which can cause constricted coronary arteries.

This type of diabetes can also influence how much adenosine triphosphate is released by red blood cells, which is the main molecule for delivering energy throughout the body.

Diabetes can also affect red blood cells by increasing the formation of reactive oxygen species which can cause a greater amount of plaque to accumulate within the walls of arteries (atherosclerosis).

The recent study by researchers at the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, looked at these changes within red blood cells and linked them to vascular abnormalities. The research included 36 participants with type 2 diabetes, and 32 participants who were healthy, had regular glucose levels, were on no medication, and had no cardiovascular disease history.

The study discovered that red blood cells from the participants with type 2 diabetes had less microRNA-210 compared to those without the condition.

MicroRNA molecules help sustain cellular functions, which includes vascular activity. The lack of the molecule can affect vascular protein levels, which can lead to the development of endothelial dysfunction (endothelium is the thin membrane that surrounds the heart and blood vessels).

The study also discovered that atherosclerotic plaques from those with diabetes contained less microRNA-210 compared to those from the healthy participants.

Medication for glycaemic control was found to have little to no effect on the negative changes to red blood cells in the participants with diabetes.

Dr Swapnil Khare, assistant professor of clinical medicine and medical director of inpatient diabetes at Indiana University School of Medicine, was not involved in the research but explained: “They showed in a part of the study that if they replace the microRNA, the endothelial dysfunction did improve. I would say this isn’t a surprising study, but definitely exciting.”

The link between microRNAs and red blood cells is still not fully understood, but the study authors believe that further research would develop understanding.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Zhichao Zhou, a researcher at Karolinska Institutet said: “Given [that] microRNAs are very stable in circulation in general, and [that] we observed that red blood cell microRNA-210 levels are decreased in type 2 diabetes, microRNA-210 may become a potential diagnostic marker to predict possible vascular complications.”

The study summarises by suggesting that increasing levels of microRNA-210 in the red blood cells of people with type 2 diabetes could treat endothelial dysfunction and help avoid vascular injury.

The research was published in the journal Diabetes.

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

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