The altered function of blood cells in patients with type 2 diabetes can result in vascular damage, which researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have determined is due to low levels of an important molecule in red blood cells.
Patients with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Damage is often caused to blood vessels with can result in patients suffering heart attacks or strokes. While these risks have been associated with type 2 diabetes for many years, the mechanism by which vascular damage occurs is not well understood. Determining the mechanisms that can lead to vascular damage could allow new treatments to be developed that could prevent cardiovascular complications.
Previous research has shown the red blood cells of patients with type 2 diabetes become dysfunctional, which can cause vascular complications. The latest study investigated the molecular changes in red blood cells in a mouse model of type 2 diabetes and blood cells obtained from type 2 diabetes patients to determine which molecular changes were causing harmful effects.
The researchers examined red blood cells from 36 patients with type 2 diabetes and compared them with red blood cells from 32 healthy individuals and found there was a marked reduction in the levels of the small molecule microRNA-210 in patients with type 2 diabetes.
MicroRNAs are non-coding RNAs that are abundant in red blood cells. The diverse microRNAs in red blood cells regulate vascular function and play a key role in maintaining cardiovascular homeostasis. Previous studies had shown that microRNA-210 has a protective effect against vascular and cardiac ischemic injury in mice; however, what was not known was whether downregulation of microRNA-210 in red blood cells was of importance for endothelial dysfunction in type 2 diabetes.
The researchers found the low levels of microRNA-210 resulted in changes in the levels of specific vascular proteins, which impaired epithelial cell function. When the researchers restored the level of microRNA-210 in mice, vascular injury was prevented via specific molecular changes.
“The findings demonstrate a previously unrecognized cause of vascular injury in type 2 diabetes,” says Zhichao Zhou, Karolinska Institutet researcher at the Department of Medicine, Solna. “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.”
You can read more about the study in the paper – Downregulation of Erythrocyte miR-210 Induces Endothelial Dysfunction in Type 2 Diabetes – which was recently published Diabetes. DOI: 10.2337/db21-0093