Gene offers target for vascular damage treatment

A clue from cancer researchers has helped identify a gene that could help the body regenerate new blood vessels damaged by diabetes.

Researchers at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston have identified a gene called CITED2 in a molecular pathway that may offer targets for drugs that treat the vascular damage to the heart and lungs that results from high blood glucose levels.

CITED2 lowers the expression of HIF, a gene that aids in activating angiogenesis. Insulin regulates the expression of CITED2, so the gene runs rampant in patients suffering from diabetes.

By identifying CITED2’s function researchers have a target for potential pharmaceutical interventions.

“CITED2 acts as a brake on HIF activity, and that brake is increased in diabetes and obesity, where you have increased CITED2,” said Christian Rask-Madsen, MD, PhD, assistant investigator in the section of vascular cell biology at Joslin Diabetes Center, in a statement. “These results advance our understanding of insulin action on vascular cells, and they point to potential new therapeutic approaches to improve angiogenesis in patients with type 2 diabetes and obesity.”

Going forward, the team will need to look for related targets in the CITED2 molecular pathway, since the gene may potentially regulate too many other genes to be the focus of drug therapy.

While angiogenesis can improve a patient’s cardiac health, it can also worsen other diabetic complications, including diabetic proliferative retinopathy. This results in fragile and leaky blood vessels growing in the retina.