Large-scale genetic analysis shows microRNAs in human pancreas associated with diabetes

Feb. 10, 2023
NIH study identifies new molecules involved in diabetes.

In a new large-scale genetic analysis, scientists have found a set of small RNA molecules, called microRNAs, in human pancreatic cells that are strongly associated with type 2 diabetes. Researchers discovered the microRNAs in groups of cells called pancreatic islets, which produce hormones, such as insulin, that the body uses to regulate energy levels.

The study, led in part by scientists at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health, will inform future studies on the early detection and treatment of diabetes. The results were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences.

Using next-generation DNA sequencing, a fast and high-throughput method for sequencing nucleic acids (like DNA and RNA), the researchers analyzed microRNAs in over 60 samples of human pancreatic islets. They found specific microRNAs that are different in people with type 2 diabetes, which may be important for charting the course of the condition or for future development of drug therapies.

The researchers also found genomic variants that are associated with the quantity (or expression level) of certain microRNAs in the cell. These genomic variants might explain the variation seen in the level of specific microRNAs among different people. One of these genomic variants was found in a genomic region known to be associated with increased risk for type 2 diabetes-related traits, which may give researchers clues about how type 2 diabetes develops.

NIH release