The research has the potential to lead to a simple screening system for developing new drugs to treat these and several other human diseases, including some forms of cancer, said Ray Bressan, distinguished professor of horticulture and one of the study's authors.
The study also raises questions about the human health role of this type of plant protein, found in many fruits, seeds and vegetables such as grapes, oats and tomatoes.
The protein, called osmotin, belongs to a large, diverse family of proteins that defend plants from fungal pathogens. Bressan and his colleagues report in the current issue (Friday, Jan. 21) of Molecular Cell that a protein in mammal muscle cells called a receptor, which normally binds to the hormone adiponectin, also binds osmotin.
They also found that the plant-derived osmotin activates the receptors in mammals in the same manner as adiponectin.
"We've found that this plant protein mimics the behavior of adiponectin in muscle cells," Bressan said. "It's very possible that the plant protein could play a role in the prevention of diseases like diabetes as well, because it has the same target as adiponectin in mammal cells - the adiponectin receptor."
The binding of hormones and other proteins to receptors activates specific responses. For example, when the hormone oxytocin binds to cells in the uterus, contractions - and childbirth - begin.
When bound to its receptor, adiponectin regulates sugar uptake and, in mouse models, prevents the development of diabetes and atherosclerosis, or the hardening of the arteries associated with heart disease. Previous studi
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