It's obvious that the taste buds on the tongue can detect sugar. And after a meal, beta cells in the pancreas sense rising blood glucose and release the hormone insulin—which helps the sugar enter cells, where it can be used by the body for energy.
Now researchers at the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute have uncovered an unexpected mechanism of glucose sensing in skeletal muscles that contributes to the body's overall regulation of blood sugar levels.
Skeletal muscle cells have machinery to directly sense glucose—in a certain sense it's like the muscles can taste sugar, too. This ability of muscles to sense blood glucose is a separate and parallel process that augments the insulin-driven response. Together they work as a rheostat to maintain steady glucose levels in the body, particularly after a meal, according to findings scheduled to be published May 4 in Molecular Cell.
Continuing to develop this in-depth understanding of how the body self-regulates blood sugar at the molecular level could shed new light on obesity and diabetes, as well as point toward new therapeutic targets. The researchers were able to examine the contributions of the glucose-sensing pathway in skeletal muscle by silencing a key gene—BAF60C—in cell cultures and in laboratory mice.