Duke Study Shatters Conventional Thinking on Sugar Metabolism; Fifth Hexokinase Identified; Links to Hyperglycemia and Gestational Diabetes; Stunning Result May Lead to Test for At-Risk Women; Understanding May Help Stem Global Epidemic of Diabetes

For at least 40 years, scientists who study how the body metabolizes sugar have accepted one point: there are four enzymes that kick-start the body’s process of getting energy from food. The discovery of these four catalysts for energy production, called hexokinases, generated more research into how the body metabolizes carbohydrates, and how interfering with those enzymes through medications could help manage metabolic disorders such as diabetes. But this biochemical foursome may not deserve all of the credit. According to research by scientists at Duke University and Northwestern, the hexokinase team actually has a fifth player. The findings were published online on February 4, 2015 in Nature Communications. “This swims against the past 40 years of research and what we thought we knew,” said Tim Reddy, Ph.D., a senior author of the study and Assistant Professor of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics at Duke. “Hexokinases are critical to basically all of our energy production. Finding a fifth one opens the door to more study into how we metabolize sugar, as well as genetic links to metabolic disorders.” The new protein is called HKDC1, and the researchers report that this enzyme may be a genetic predictor for whether an expectant mother develops hyperglycemia, or excess blood sugar, during pregnancy. Hyperglycemia is a potentially harmful environment for a growing fetus and can contribute to obesity and diabetes later in the child’s life. While at least 4 percent of pregnant women develop diabetes during pregnancy, as many as 400,000 women each year in the U.S. have gestational hyperglycemia, which equals about 10 percent of expectant mothers.
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