Scientists Identify New Cause of Vascular Injury in Type 2 Diabetes

MicroRNA-210, which is present in healthy red blood cells, helps regulate vascular function.

A new study shows that there is a lower level of microRNA-210 in the red blood cells of people with type 2 diabetes.

MicroRNA-210 replenishment levels may one day prevent vascular injury associated with this type of diabetes.

Among the many complications of type 2 diabetes, the development of cardiovascular disease and worse clinical outcomes after cardiovascular events, especially heart attacks, may be of particular concern.


A recent study published in the journal Diabetes suggests that the lack of a specific molecule in red blood cells may be at the root of type 2 diabetes-induced vascular complications.


In recent years, research has shown that these specialized cells undergo various changes and can become dysfunctional in people with this form of diabetes.


Changes in red blood cells

Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. They also carry carbon dioxide back to the lungs to exhale. In a lesser-known but equally crucial role, red blood cells influence the maintenance of cardiovascular balance or homeostasis. This is achieved in part by producing nitric oxide.

The body uses nitric oxide to widen the blood vessels. And researchers have noted that red blood cells in people with type 2 diabetes have a reduced ability to produce nitric oxide. This can lead to constriction of the coronary arteries.

Type 2 diabetes can also affect the release of adenosine triphosphate by red blood cells. This is the main molecule for storing and transferring energy within the body.

Another change in red blood cells in people with diabetes is increased formation of reactive oxygen species. The presence of these molecules can lead to increased plaque formation on the inner walls of the arteries, a health problem called atherosclerosis.

In the new study, researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden investigated what molecular changes within red blood cells could explain these dysfunctions. The team recruited 36 participants with type 2 diabetes and 32 healthy participants who were not taking medication and had normal fasting glucose levels and no history of cardiovascular disease.

The importance of microRNA-210
The researchers found that the red blood cells of people with type 2 diabetes had much less microRNA-210 than those of healthy participants. MicroRNA molecules occur naturally and regulate cellular functions, including vascular activity.

The study showed that the reduction of microRNA-210 caused changes in the levels of specific vascular proteins. These alterations contributed to the development of endothelial dysfunction. It is the thin membrane that lines the heart and blood vessels.

The researchers also found that atherosclerotic plaques taken from participants with type 2 diabetes had lower levels of microRNA-210 than those from healthy participants.

Furthermore, glycemic control through medication did not appear to have a significant influence on the detrimental effects of changes in red blood cells in participants with type 2 diabetes.

Possible future treatment
Dr. Swapnil Khare, assistant professor of clinical medicine and medical director of inpatient diabetes at Indiana University School of Medicine, shared her thoughts on the study with Medical News Today. She did not participate in the investigation.

“They showed in one part of the study that if they replaced the microRNA, the endothelial dysfunction improved,” explained Dr. Khare. “I would say this is not a surprising study, but definitely exciting.”

The direct relationship between microRNAs and red blood cells is not yet fully understood. The study authors acknowledge that clarifying the signaling pathways between these biostructures will require further investigation.

In an interview with MNT, Dr. Zhichao Zhou, a researcher at the Karolinska Institutet and first author of the study, said:

‚ÄúSince [that] microRNAs are very stable in the circulation in general, and [that] we observe that the levels of microRNA-210 in red blood cells are decreased in type 2 diabetes, microRNA-210 may become a diagnostic marker potential to predict possible vascular complications. ”

In the conclusion of the study article, the researchers write that increasing red blood cell microRNA-210 levels has the potential to be an effective treatment for endothelial dysfunction and help prevent vascular injury in people with type 2 diabetes.

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