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Implication of a placental protein in protection against development of insulin resistance in early life

April 02, 2019


Type-2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) has become a major public health burden with its prevalence rising in most countries of the world. T2DM is often developed after the body becomes “insulin resistant” – a condition that prevents tissues using insulin to remove glucose from the blood. A number of studies have found that the development of type 2 diabetes may have its roots in early life, but the specific factors contributing to disease development remain unclear.

New research shows that a placental protein called placental 11 β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase 2 (11β-HSD2) may protect against the development of T2DM in early life. 11β-HSD2 is an enzyme that converts active glucocorticoid – cortisol to its biologically inactive form, cortisone. Cortisol is released in large amounts in response to various stresses. The presence of 11β-HSD2 in the placenta provides a barrier to reduce exposure of the fetus to the mothers circulating cortisol, hence cortisol concentrations in the unborn baby are much lower than in the mother.

A new study of 246 mother-baby pairs has now shown that the higher the placental 11β-HSD2 level, the lower the insulin resistance in infants at 1 year of age, suggesting that increased placental 11β-HSD2 may convey longer term protection against the development of type-2 diabetes in the early years of life. This finding points to a new molecular target for developing effective early life interventions to safeguard against the development of type 2 diabetes.

This research study was recently published in Diabetes Care (, a leading international peer-reviewed diabetes research journal. The study was co-led by Drs. Zhong-Cheng Luo and Anne Monique Nuyt (co-corresponding authors). Dr. Luo is an Associate Scientist/Professor in the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital, Sinai Health System, and Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, University of Toronto, and Dr. Nuyt is a Professor at Sainte-Justine University Hospital and Research Center, and Department of Pediatrics, University of Montreal. The co-first authors Lu Chen and Julie Guilmette are graduate students under the supervision of Drs. Luo and Nuyt. Their research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.





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