Bacterial Killer Plays Role in Insulin Production

Why would the pancreas need a bacteria-killing protein when it isn’t normally exposed to bacteria? A Canadian team has the answer.

Why would the pancreas need a bacteria-killing protein when it isn’t normally exposed to bacteria?

Researchers in Ottawa, Canada set out to find out. The team’s previous research indicated that a bacteria-killing protein called cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide (CAMP) might also play a role in type 1 diabetes, although just how it was involved wasn’t clear.

"We were looking for this bacteria-killing protein in various parts of the body, and as expected, we found high levels in the gut tissues that are exposed to bacteria," explained Fraser Scott, PhD, a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa. "However, we also found it in the pancreas, which was a complete shock because the pancreas isn't typically exposed to bacteria."

The reason may lead to novel treatment for types 1 and 2 diabetes. When the team injected diabetes-prone rats with CAMP, they discovered signs of increased regeneration in the pancreas and a shift toward more beneficial bacteria in the gut. They also found that CAMP gene expression was lower in diabetes-prone rats than in normal rats, and that treating pancreatic cells in vitro with CAMP doubled insulin secretion. CAMP, they determined is produced by the same pancreatic cells that produce insulin, not only in rats and mice, but in humans, highlighting a potential opportunity for disease treatment.

About 400 million people in the world have type 1 diabetes and it affects about 1.25 million people in the U.S.

The results of the study were published in the December 2015 issue of Diabetes.

"Our study uncovers an intriguing new role for this protein in pancreas function and regeneration, with possible links to diabetes-associated gut bacteria," said Scott. "We certainly don't have all the answers yet, but our findings raise the exciting possibility of novel treatments for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes."