The hormone insulin is essential for the glucose metabolism in the body: In the absence of insulin, blood glucose levels rise. Hyperglycemia – high blood glucose – can lead to a life-threatening glucose shock or to long-term damage to many organs. Diabetes patients must often rely on drugs to stimulate insulin production. In the further course of the disease, many of them must control their blood glucose level several times a day and regulate this – according to their food intake – by injecting insulin.
In the publication in Nature Medicine the Düsseldorf scientists, together with their cooperation partners, reported that the active ingredient dextromethorphan causes the beta cells in the pancreas to secrete more insulin when blood glucose levels are elevated. This improves the blood glucose levels in the subjects and, in particular, flattens the blood glucose peaks.
The experiments indicate that dextromethorphan strengthens the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas and may protect against cell death. This could eventually improve the patients' situation because diabetes often worsens over time due to the fact that beta cells increasingly produce less insulin or die off. Also type 1 diabetics – in whom the beta cells die off due to an autoimmune reaction – can benefit from dextromethorphan. Prof. Dr. Eckhard Lammert, DZD scientist and director of the Institute for Beta Cell Biology at the DDZ, said: “We will investigate over a long period under medical supervision whether the administration of dextromethorphan in type 1 diabetics during the early phase of the disease can keep the patients from having to inject insulin.”
This study is a joint project of the Institute of Physiology of the HHU and the UKD with the German Diabetes Center in Düsseldorf (DDZ) – partner in the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD), the Profil Institut für Stoffwechselforschung GmbH in Neuss, the MLM Medical Labs GmbH in Mönchengladbach and foreign laboratories.
Jan Marquardt, Silke Otter, Alena Welters, Alin Stirban, Annelie Fischer, Jan Eglinger, Diran Herebian, Olaf Kletke, Masa Skelin Klemen, Andraz Stozer, Stephan Wnendt, Lorenzo Piemonti, Martin Köhler, Jorge Ferrer, Bernard Thorens, Freimut Schliess, Marjan Slak Rupnik, Tim Heise, Per-Olof Bergg-ren, Nikolaj Klöcker, Thomas Meissner, Ertan Mayatepek, Daniel Eberhard, Martin Kragl & Eckhard Lammert, „Characterization of pancreatic NMDA re-ceptors as possible drug targets for diabetes treatment“
Online: DOI: 10.1038/nm.3822