ROCK1 is a protein kinase that makes fission in the mitochondria all the more difficult. The mitochondria is the power plant of cells and their malfunctioning can lead to diabetic kidney disease. This conclusion was reached by the latest research from the Baylor College of Medicine that would be published in the online edition of the journal Cell Metabolism.
The protein ROCK1 stands for Rho-associated coiled-coil containing protein kinase 1. According to Dr. Farhad R. Danesh, Associate Professor of Medicine for Nephrology at Baylor, “We have shown the connection between ROCK1 and the progression to kidney disease through the effect of ROCK1 on the mitochondria.”
He added, “We have known that mitochondrial dysfunction plays major role in the complications of diabetes, especially when affecting the eyes and kidneys. What we did not know was why people with diabetic complications develop mitochondrial dysfunction.”
There is a current estimate that nearly fifteen million individuals in the United States that suffer from the condition and nearly a third of them would be at high risk in developing kidney disease. This is one of the most serious complications of having high blood sugar levels for a long time, as the individual suffers tremendously together with the high expenses because of dialysis and kidney transplantation. By understanding the cellular processes that increase the risk of kidney disease in diabetics, researchers may be able to formulate processes and medication to prevent or delay these problems.
The mitochondria is known as the power plant of the cell but also is an important part of the cell that plays an important role in cellular processes such as mitochondrial fusion and fission. The Baylor team studied the effect of ROCK1 on the mitochondria in mice models of diabetes that did not have ROCK1while another had a form of the enzyme.
The team found that when the ROCK1 was activated, the mitochondria in the diabetic mice became fragmented. The fragmentation would lead to a process named apoptosis or programmed cell death. Eventually, the cell would die because of the non-functioning mitochondria.
Another effect of the activation of ROCK1 would be that protein named DRP-1 or dynamin related protein 1 also activates and goes after mitochondria in cells. They trigger fission and this is important in cellular division to ensure that the cells would have the proper mitochondria. The problem is the high incidence of mitochondrial fission even without cell division would lead to cellular death. The increasing rate of this phenomenon in cells would eventually lead to issues in the kidney cells in diabetics.
Danesh adds, “These studies were done in mice and we cannot be sure how they translate to humans. However we believe they do explain the metabolic pathway involved in diabetic kidney disease.”