Here’s how low testosterone raises diabetes risk

"Testosterone is an anti-diabetic hormone in men," says Franck Mauvais-Jarvis. "If we can modulate its action without side effects, it is a therapeutic avenue for type 2 diabetes." (Credit: iStockphoto)

Doctors have long known that men with low testosterone are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

Now, for the first time, they have identified how the hormone helps men regulate blood sugar by triggering key signaling mechanisms in islets, clusters of cells within the pancreas that produce insulin.

The results, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, could help identify new treatments, researchers say.

“We have found the cause—and a potential treatment pathway—for type 2 diabetes in testosterone-deficient men,” says senior author Franck Mauvais-Jarvis, professor of medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine. “Our study shows that testosterone is an anti-diabetic hormone in men. If we can modulate its action without side effects, it is a therapeutic avenue for type 2 diabetes.”

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Researchers used specially bred male mice with pancreatic beta cells lacking the receptor to testosterone (the androgen receptor). They fed them a diet rich in fats and sugar, and tested their response to glucose. The mice without androgen receptors all developed lower insulin secretion, leading to glucose intolerance compared with normal mice in the control group.

To better understand how testosterone interacted with insulin production within the pancreas, researchers administered the hormone and glucose directly to human islet cells treated with an androgen receptor inhibitor and islets cells harvested from mice without androgen receptors. In both cases the islet cells showed decreased insulin production compared to islet cells whose receptor to testosterone was not inhibited or missing.

Further experiments in cultured mouse and human islet cells showed the insulin-producing effect of testosterone could be abolished by inhibiting glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), a hormone the body produces after a meal. The study suggests that testosterone amplifies the islet impact of the hormone, which is currently used as a diabetes treatment.

Other researchers from Tulane and from Northwestern University, Vanderbilt University, University of Chicago, University of Illinois, and Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium are coauthors of the study.

Source: Tulane University