This Enzyme Holds a Key to Diabetes Management — If We Could Just Figure Out How to Control It

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Phosphatidic acid phosphatase (PAP), also known as lipin, is an enzyme that helps the body hold onto enough fat to survive, but sometimes it causes the body to store a little too much fat. In the interest of combating diabetes and other diseases, scientists have been looking for a way to adjust the amount of this enzyme present in the body.

PAP was discovered in 1957, but the gene that determines how it manifests itself was not discovered until 2006. PAP itself determines whether the phosphatidic acid in the body will be used to create fat or the lipids for cell membranes.

At first, it was thought that removing the PAP enzyme completely would help patients lose weight. The main goal of phosphatidic acid phosphatase is to make sure your body has plenty of fat to continue living, even if it doesn’t get a meal for the next few days, but, since most of us know where our next meal is coming from, PAP is more or less useless.

A recent study out of Rutgers University-New Brunswick, however, found that getting rid of PAP completely caused inflammation and increased the patients’ risk of cancer and other diseases. It is becoming clear, therefore, that phosphatidic acid phosphatase has an important role in the body—it’s just doing its job a little too well. Learning to rein it in a little could help us manage diabetes in a much more effective way and combat obesity, insulin resistance, and a host of other ailments.

George M. Carman, Board of Governors professor in the Department of Food Science in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, says his lab’s goal is a tricky one to fulfill. “For years, we have been trying to find out how to fine-tune the enzyme’s activity so it’s not too active, and creating too much fat, but it’s active enough to keep the body healthy.”

When it comes down to it, the only way we currently have to control the PAP enzyme is through what we eat. “The key take-home message is that things have to be balanced,” Carman says. “To keep the balance between making storage fat and membrane lipid, you have to have balanced diet.”

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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?