A protein that protects the pancreas from self-digestion has been studied

(ORDO NEWS) — The pancreas produces the digestive enzymes needed to process food. It turns out that in order not to be digested itself, this gland needs a specific protein – the estrogen-related receptor gamma (ERR ɣ). The new result could form the basis of innovative therapies for pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.

The human pancreas is indeed located just below the stomach, in the bend of the duodenum. It plays a dual role: firstly, it produces and releases insulin into the bloodstream, and secondly, it creates digestive enzymes necessary for the chemical processing of food in the intestines. For a day, the pancreas is able to secrete a whole glass of such a chemically active secret.

However, these compounds can also be digested by the very gland that creates them. In this case, an acute and dangerous condition develops, accompanied by inflammation and severe pain – pancreatitis (from the Latin pancreas – “pancreas”).

Addressing this important problem, scientists from the Salk Institute for Biological Research (USA) studied a special protein – the estrogen-related receptor gamma ERR ɣ. Their new article has just been published in the journal Gastroenterology , from which it follows that this protein prevents the enzymatic breakdown of pancreatic tissue.

Moreover, the researchers found that in people with pancreatitis, inflammatory cells contain less ERR ɣ. Therefore, they consider this protein a valuable target for the treatment of dangerous diseases such as pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.

“Our results provide a better understanding of both the biological basis of pancreatic cells and the possible causes of pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer,” said Professor Ronald Evans, director of the Gene Expression Laboratory at the Salk Institute and co-author of the new paper.

Recall that the pancreas consists of two types of cells that perform different functions. Beta cells synthesize and release the hormone insulin into the blood, which is necessary for the regulation of glucose levels.

At the same time, acinar cells synthesize the so-called pancreatic digestive enzymes needed to break down complex compounds in the intestine into simpler ones.

Previously, Prof. Evans and colleagues showed that the ERR ɣ protein helps beta cells secrete insulin. They were also able to find that mice lacking ERR ɣ develop severe pancreatitis.

To understand the role of this protein in other pancreatic (acinar) cells, the researchers also compared the two groups of mice. Some of them had the target protein, while others lacked it. It turned out that ERR ɣ is involved in the work of mitochondria, the organelles necessary for energy production.

“The fact that mitochondria serve as the main source of energy for acinar cells has been known since the 1960s,” said Jae Myoung Suh, co-author of the publication. “However, the factor that drives this program to produce the energy needed by living things has long remained a mystery.”

If there is no ERR ɣ in acinar cells, not only energy metabolism regulation disorders will begin in them, but, as a result, digestive enzymes will be activated, which will digest the gland itself. Scientists note that this is why the mitochondria of such cells must be especially stable.

The authors did not limit themselves exclusively to working with mice. They clearly confirmed their findings by examining pancreatic biopsies from patients with pancreatitis.

Again, there was a noticeable trend “the more pancreatitis, the less ERR ɣ”. Scientists hope that new data on the role of this protein will become the basis for innovative therapies for such dangerous diseases as pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.


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