Weaning baby triggers this surprising effect

baby_bottle_feedingIsraeli scientists find an unexpected link between weaning and the ability of pancreatic beta cells to regenerate. Are there implications for diabetes?

Israeli medical researchers unexpectedly discovered that only when a baby is weaned off mother’s milk does a formerly unknown developmental step in the process of pancreatic beta-cell maturation begin to occur. In experiments with lab mice, this critical developmental step appeared to be triggered exclusively by the change of diet.

The surprising discovery was made while scientists were attempting to understand why only a small subset of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas of adult organisms can replicate – leading to tissue regeneration – and why the number of replicating cells declines with advancing age.

The study results were published in the March 9 issue of the medical journal Developmental Cell by Prof. Yuval Dor and research associate Miri Stolovich-Rain at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
’s Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada, in collaboration with Prof. Benjamin Glaser from the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Hoping to understand the effects of aging on beta-cell replication, the scientists induced hyperglycemia – a condition of excessive glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream – in suckling mice, expecting that because of their young age their beta cells would exhibit a superb regenerative ability.

Instead, the researchers discovered that the mice actually didn’t begin to develop the cellular machinery that allows for tissue regeneration until after they were weaned from high-fat mother’s milk (or formula) to high-carbohydrate chow. In addition, insulin secretion in response to high levels of glucose was much lower in the suckling mice than in adult mice.

“The data suggest that regenerative potential is a trait of mature tissues, which has to develop actively, similar to functional maturation, rather than an innate feature of newly born cells,” said Dor, a developmental biologist.

When to wean

The researchers concluded that the dietary transition from fat-rich milk to carbohydrate-rich food kick-starts the maturation of beta cells so that they can replicate and secrete proper amounts of insulin in response to conditions such as high blood-glucose levels.


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