(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- It is a known fact that sugar found in food is bad for teeth and the waistline, but now another sugar produced in the body's cells is implicated as a health hazard and blocking it may bring benefits that include treating cancer and improving long-term memory in older people.
The sugar is not table sugar, it is a substance produced in the body's cells that qualify as sugars because of its chemical standing. Its name is "oh-glick-nack," O-linked beta-N-acetyl glucosamine or "O-GlcNAc." It attaches itself to proteins that allow substances to pass in and out of the nucleus of cells and helps decide whether specific genes are turned on or off. In doing so, O-GlcNAc signals the basis of diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and other disorders. Proteins with too much O-GlcNAc can not function normally.
Recent research on the sugar emerged from the use of advanced lab tools for probing a body process that involves attachment of sugars to proteins, called protein glycosylation. It coordinates the body and keeps it healthy by helping nerves and various cells communicate.
The study performed on mice developed a new process to screen the brain for all O-GlcNAc-glycosylated proteins. Over 200 proteins bearing the sugar attachments were identified. One O-GlcNAc effect on a particular protein was of significance to researchers.
CREB is a substance that turns on and regulates activity of the genes that are usually inactive in cells. Scientists found that when O-GlcNAc attached itself to CREB, CREB could not turn genes on. Researchers then blocked O-GlcNAc from binding to CREB and discovered that the mice would develop long-term memories faster as compared to normal mice.
"We're far from understanding what happens in humans. Completely blocking O-GlcNAc might not be desirable. Do you really want to sustain all memories long-term, even of events that are best forgotten? How would blocking the sugar from binding to other proteins affect other body processes? There are a lot of unanswered questions. Nevertheless, this research could eventually lead to ways to improve memory," Linda Hsieh-Wilson, Ph.D., with the California Institute of Technology was quoted as saying.
Also, in a related study, Dr. Hsieh-Wilson found that O-GlcNAc had interaction with another protein that would suggest the growth of cancer cells. By blocking its attachment, a smaller tumor was the result.
SOURCE: American Chemical Society, March 2012