Common dietary supplement, glucosamine, acts as a link between nutrients and intestinal health

Glucosamine is a dietary supplement of few known side effects used for example in therapies for joint arthritis. A recent study found its unprecedented function in activating the intestinal stem cell divisions.

Intestinal stem cells renew damaged cells in a highly controlled manner to maintain tissue homeostasis. When there is not enough nutrients available the stem cells are dividing slowly and the intestine shrinks. In a fed condition, stem cell divisions ensues and the intestine recovers to its normal size.

By utilizing the fly, Drosophila melanogaster, as a model, a study conducted in the laboratory of Professor Michael Boutros from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) together with researchers from the Institute of Biotechnology revealed that the cellular biosynthesis of glucosamine regulates this process. When flies were feeding glucosamine, the intestinal stem cells maintained their high proliferative rate irrespective of poor diet. The same applies when the biosynthesis of glucosamine was blocked, even high nutrient content was unable to active stem cell divisions to their normal pace.

Glucosamine was further shown to modify the stem cell’s responsiveness to insulin, a well-known master signal of organismal nutrient status. These findings reveal that glucosamine is a previously unknown modulator of intestinal health.

Since the regulation of stem cell division between the fly and human acts in a similar way, the findings may offer tools to increase efficacy of therapies related to recovery from intestinal pathologies such as the erosion of the intestinal surface. Further work is necessary to unravel glucosamine function in the human intestinal stem cells.

The original article: Stem Cell Intrinsic Hexosamine Metabolism Regulates Intestinal Adaptation to Nutrient Content

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Jaakko Mattila

University of Helsinki