Researchers have solved a 100-year-old mystery surrounding what activates magnesium ions in a human cell. This discovery might spur future development of novel drugs capable of treating cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders like diabetes, and numerous other ills, according to a recent study published in the journal Cell.
Revolutionary study solves 100-year-old mystery of body dynamics
The magnesium activator is a metabolite called lactate — which happens at elevated levels in the blood amid intense exercise, in addition to many diseases. These include sepsis, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, according to scientists from the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio, who were involved in the study.
"Lactate is a signal that — like a light switch — turns on magnesium ions," said Madesh Muniswarmy, professor of cardiology at the Long School of Medicine and lead author of the study. "On lactate's signal, the ions rush out of cellular storehouses called the endoplasmic reticulum."
Second discovery shows how released magnesium enters cell powerhouses
The team behind this study also made another discovery: a protein called Mrs2 moves the free magnesium ions into cell powerhouses called mitochondria. These are power plants responsible for generating ATP, which is the energy flow fueling every process in the body, reports Phys.org.
"We believe this loop is essential for health," said W. Brian Reeves, chairman of the department of medicine at UT Health San Antonio and study coauthor. "If there is a problem with magnesium routing, impairments ensue, such as the diminished mitochondrial function and poor energy production observed in Type 2 diabetes or severe infections."
This study could spur treatments for numerous diseases
The activator for calcium ions called IP3 was first discovered in 1984. Since then, the field of calcium studies has grown substantially — but magnesium has remained a riddle, said Karthik Ramachandran, a postdoctoral fellow at Muniswamy laboratory and study coauthor.
Travis Madaris — another coauthor — said: "As a student in the lab, this discovery is exciting because it lays out a pathway for multiple publications while I'm in this lab, and most importantly, it can lead to many future discoveries to improve human health."
In short, "magnesium is essential for life," said Muniswamy. "It's in our blood. It's been implicated in and used as a treatment for a variety of diseases, including migraines, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and preeclampsia." But before scientists could move forward, they needed to grasp the dynamics of magnesium in human bodies, he added. "With this finding, we believe we have laid out one of the pillars of support that the scientific world needed."