Scientists at the Julius Maximilians University of Würzburg (JMU) have succeeded in deciphering new details on people that consumed too much sugar and carbohydrate for a long time and reported that this habitual consumption could lead to auto-immune disease and inflammation.
Dr. Martin Väth is responsible for the study, which has now been published in the journal Cell Metabolism. He is a junior research group leader at the Institute of Systems Immunology — a Max Planck research group under the umbrella of JMU that focuses on the interplay of the immune system with the organism.
Collaborators from Amsterdam, Berlin, Freiburg, and Leuven were also involved in this study.
Martin Väth explains: “Immune cells need large amounts of sugar in the form of glucose to perform their tasks. With the help of specialized transporters at their cell membrane, they can take up glucose from the environment.” Together with his team, Väth has shown that a specific glucose transporter — scientifically named GLUT3 — fulfills additional metabolic functions in T cells besides generating energy from sugar.
In their study, the scientists focused on a group of cells of the immune system that have not been known for very long: T helper cells of type 17, also called Th17 lymphocytes, which play an important role in regulating (auto-) inflammatory processes.
However, acetyl-CoA fulfills additional functions in inflammatory Th17 cells. Väth and his team showed that this metabolic intermediate can also regulate the activity of various gene segments. Thus, glucose consumption has a direct influence on the activity of proinflammatory genes.
According to the researchers, these new findings pave the way for the development of targeted therapy for autoimmune diseases.