Researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, found that the protein galectin-1 could be a possible cause of type 2 diabetes. However, the protein also seems to be a protective factor for the kidneys in type 2 diabetes patients at high risk for diabetic nephropathy.
This study collaborated with the research team at Lund University and is published in the journal Diabetologia. The researchers looked at both the positive and negative links between galectin-1 and type 2 diabetes, with their findings highlighting how it can help and hinder individuals. They discovered that galectin-1 might be associated with an increased risk of diabetes, yet in patients with a subtype of diabetes that increases the risk of kidney damage, galectin-1 appears to be beneficial, as patients with high galectin-1 levels in their blood suffer less kidney damage.
“This is probably not as strange as it might sound. My own personal theory is that the actions of galectin-1 found in the kidney are linked to inflammatory processes, whereas the actions of galectin-1 in the adipose tissue appear to be largely linked to metabolic processes. Thus, we can expect to see different mechanisms at work and different outcomes for the same protein,” said Emanuel Fryk, one of the study’s lead authors. Fryk is a resident physician in general medicine and a doctoral student at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.
Galectin-1 linked to type 2 diabetes
Galectin-1 is a protein expressed by fat cells alongside other cells involved in the regulation of inflammation and the function of fat cells in the body. Five years ago, the team at the University of Gothenburg proposed that the protein could be involved in pathophysiological mechanisms in the adipose tissue in type 2 diabetes development after studying individuals with a recent type 2 diabetes diagnosis. The team also highlighted that the protein was linked to higher insulin levels in the blood of one thousand participants in the Swedish CArdioPulmonary bioImage Study (SCAPIS). A correlation between the protein and increased insulin levels was found after modifying the study for known risk factors in type 2 diabetes, such as obesity, age and gender.
Furthermore, researchers can confirm that galectin-1 plays a significant role in the cause of type 2 diabetes in individuals, as noted in the Malmo Diet and Cancer Study. In this study, more than 4,000 participants’ blood samples were analysed between 1991 and 1994. The galectin-1 protein levels in the blood samples were analysed to assess the relationship between developing type 2 diabetes around 18 years after the sample was initially collected. However, the authors do not believe that galectin-1 should become a new tool in primary care to predict who may develop diabetes but should be used to understand the disease better.
How does galectin-1 protect patients?
Approximately 463 million adults were living with diabetes in 2019, which is estimated to rise to 700 million in 2045. It has proven to be a complex disease with many factors contributing to its development and has serious complications. Chronic kidney disease is one of the most serious complications, a condition that around half of those with type 2 diabetes develop and can lead to permanent organ damage and premature death if not treated correctly.
By combining genetic analyses and measurements of galectin-1, the researchers were able to examine the genetic link between galectin-1 and developing diabetes and kidney diseases in another Scania-based investigation called the All New Diabetics in Scania (ANDIS) study. This study previously proposed that diabetes can be separated into five subgroups, and one of those groups would include individuals with a higher risk of diabetic renal disease. Further analysis from the ANDIS study found that elevated levels of galectin-1 may offer protection against kidney damage for this group of patients.