Researchers from the UT Health Science Center recently found that higher levels of the amino acid tyrosine could be associated with a higher risk of developing diabetes in obese people and, at the same time, increased longevity in a model animal called C. elegant (roundworms). The study appeared on a journal of the Public Library of Science, PLOS Genetics.
Alfred Fisher, M.D., Ph.D., of the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies at the UT Health Science Center, led the study and found that people at higher risk of developing diabetes tend to have higher tyrosine levels. “It was unknown whether this was simply a marker of diabetes risk or could be playing a direct role in the disease,” Dr. Fisher said. “Our work suggests that tyrosine has a direct effect.”
“This will be tested in small human clinical trials,” Dr. Fisher said. “Our team will augment tyrosine levels in study participants for a short period and observe whether this changes the ability of the body to respond to insulin, which is a key hormone involved in controlling blood sugar levels. This will not be detrimental to participants, as the increase will be transient and well below the level of what is clinically relevant.”
Interestingly, the higher levels of tyrosine caused different effects in roundworms, which is a model animal Dr. Fisher has studied since 2005, and it prolonged their life by 10 to 20 %. “In both humans and worms, the effect is due to an inhibition of insulin signaling,” Dr. Fisher said. “Interfering with this pathway produces longevity in worms, whereas in people it leads to insulin resistance and an elevated risk of developing diabetes.”