Insulin Resistance and White Blood Cells

Normally, white blood cells, or, as they are known in the scientific world, neutrophils, work in your favor when it comes to fighting bacteria and infections. However, as recent research from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine discovered, these same white blood cells may play a role in causing insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is the root cause of type 2 diabetes, a growing medical problem now affecting 26 million Americans.

Neutrophils Role in Infection

When you have any sort of inflammation or infection in your body, the first immune response you have is the production of neutrophils as they are called to the inflamed area to fight the inflammation.  Normally, the neutrophils do their job and then die off in about 5 days. And this is a good thing.

However, the new research shows that neutrophils can cause chronic inflammation by calling other white blood cells known as macrophages to the area. UC San Diego’s research has further determined that this chronic low-grade inflammation is an important cause of insulin resistance.

Using liver and fat cells from mice and humans and live mouse models, a team led by Jerrold M. Olefsky, MD, associate dean for scientific affairs at UC San Diego Health Sciences and professor of medicine, discovered that an enzyme secreted by neutrophils called neutrophil elastase (NE) impairs insulin signaling and boosts resistance. Conversely, deletion of NE in obese mice fed a high-fat diet improved insulin sensitivity.

“These results are largely unexpected,” said Da Young Oh, an assistant project scientist in Olefsky’s lab and study co-author. “Although several immune cells have been established in the etiology of insulin resistance, the role of neutrophils in this process has remained unclear until now.”

Chronic low-grade inflammation is common in the fat tissues. So, if you are carrying any extra weight, you are also suffering from chronic low-grade inflammation. This, in turn, leads to insulin resistance, which then leads to type-2 diabetes.

Further Research Planned

Armed with these new research findings, scientists will press on, with much gratitude from the millions of type-2 diabetes sufferers:

The insulin-mediating role of neutrophils makes them a new target for developing treatments of insulin resistance in particular and diabetes in general. “Given that NE mediates insulin resistance, one could, in theory, take an NE activity inhibitory approach to reverse or improve insulin resistance,” Oh said, noting that NE inhibitors are already used for treatment of emphysema in Japan and are being tested in the United States, both for emphysema and type 1 diabetes.

Click to read the original news release on how White Blood Cells Mediate Insulin Resistance.