March 17, 2014 | Fusun Kilic, Ph.D., sometimes wishes her mind wasn’t so focused on unraveling the mysteries of serotonin and diabetes. Even a casual reference on television can cause her once again to think about the subject at length.
That focus on serotonin and diabetes has its blessings, too. The Roy & Christine Sturgis Charitable Trust recently and for a third time since 2011 granted UAMS $25,000 to fund her research. Associate Professor Kilic conducts her research and teaches in the UAMS Department of Biochemistry.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the neurons and brain cells and has different functions in blood. Although much of the research into it has concentrated on serotonin in the brain and neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and autism, Kilic’s laboratories study the regulation of serotonin in blood, which is mostly stored in platelets and circulates at a very low level in blood plasma.
“I’m very thankful to the Sturgis Trust,” Kilic said. “I hope there will be more money for people working on diabetes. Diabetes is one of the oldest diseases in terms of its research history, and yet the discovery of insulin in 1922 by Frederick Banting and Charles Best is still the highest achievement in the field of diabetes research. While this disease doesn’t kill the patient immediately, the quality of life of patients gets so poor over time. It is so sad that there still is no cure.”
Kilic and her research team have shown that under diabetic conditions, blood plasma serotonin level is increased and the serotonin transporter, which is the major mechanism in controlling the plasma serotonin level, is damaged.
When looking at the possible links between elevated blood serotonin and its effect on the cell surface, they discovered that serotonin changes the sugar structure of the cell surface and this changes the interaction ability between the cells. Kilic’s discoveries were published in the Nature Publishing Group’s Scientific Reports.
Currently, her lab is studying the level of serotonin in maternal and cord blood during diabetes-associated pregnancy, which is very important to the health of the mother and the growing fetus. Excess serotonin can constrict the blood vessels and decrease blood flow to the fetus and causing problems with the health of mother.
The serotonin transporter in the platelets and placenta regulates the amount of serotonin in maternal blood and controls the level of serotonin received by the embryo. Their studies showed that the serotonin transporter is damaged by diabetic conditions and not fully functional.
To help determine its effects on pregnant women with diabetes and their babies, the researchers are collaborating with Curtis Lowery, M.D., and Nafisa Dajani, M.D., in the UAMS College of Medicine OB/GYN Department to enroll women who have agreed to be in the study.
The researchers study the serotonin transporter in the placentas, cord blood and maternal blood samples of these diabetic women after term pregnancies. Most of the grant funding will go toward paying for the analysis of placental and platelet serotonin transporter, Kilic said.
Ultimately, Kilic hopes her research will show why and how that happens so a way can be found to prevent the damage on the transporter during diabetes-associated pregnancy.