Study identifies molecular changes in red blood cells that cause vascular damage in type 2 diabetes

In type 2 diabetes, the modified function of the red blood cells causes vascular damage. The findings of a new study on cells collected from patients with type 2 diabetes and mice reveal that this effect due to low levels of a vital molecule in the red blood cells.

Study identifies molecular changes in red blood cells that cause vascular damage in type 2 diabetes
Illustration of red blood cells. Image Credit: Pixabay.

The study by scientists from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden has been reported in the journal Diabetes.

It is familiar that type 2 diabetes patients are vulnerable to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. As time passes, type 2 diabetes may cause damage to blood vessels, which could cause life-threatening complications like stroke and heart attack.

But the disease mechanisms behind cardiovascular injury in type 2 diabetes are mostly unknown, and at present, there is a lack of treatments to avoid such injuries.

Latest studies have demonstrated that the red blood cells, whose main job is to carry oxygen to bodily organs, turn dysfunctional in type 2 diabetes and can serve as mediators of vascular complications.

In this study, Karolinska researchers have analyzed cells collected from patients with type 2 diabetes and mice to identify which molecular changes in the red blood cells could lead to such harmful effects in type 2 diabetes.

Reduced levels of microRNA-210

The team identified that levels of the small molecule microRNA-210 were considerably reduced in red blood cells from 36 patients with type 2 diabetes than red blood cells of 32 healthy subjects.

Micro-RNAs are a class of molecules that act as regulators of vascular function in diabetes and other conditions. The decrease in microRNA-210 led to changes in certain vascular protein levels and thus impaired blood vessel endothelial cell function.

Lab experiments showed that restoration of microRNA-210 levels in red blood cells inhibited the development of vascular injury through particular molecular changes.

The findings demonstrate a previously unrecognized cause of vascular injury in type 2 diabetes. We hope that the results will pave the way for new therapies that increase red blood cell microRNA-210 levels and thereby prevent vascular injury in patients with type 2 diabetes.”

Zhichao Zhou, Researcher, Department of Medicine, Karolinska Institutet

Zhou performed the study together with, among others, Professor John Pernow from the same department.

Journal reference:

Zhou, Z., et al. (2021) Downregulation of Erythrocyte miR-210 Induces Endothelial Dysfunction in Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes.


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