New research conducted at the University of Washington and Boston University has shown that excess glucose in the body could damage the elastic proteins found in important organs such as the heart and lungs, which aid in breathing and pumping blood.
In this study, aortic tissue was separated into two types of proteins, elastin and collagen. Ferroelectric switching is what allows the elastin to be flexible and convey repeated pulses, in organs such as the arteries. It is a response to an electric field in which a molecule switches from having a positive charge to a negative charge. Recent discoveries in animal tissue have traced this property to elastin in animal tissues.
When researchers treated the elastin with sugar, they noticed a 50% suppression of the ferroelectric switching. The sugar-protein interaction mimics glycation, a process where sugar molecules attach to proteins and degrade their structure and function. Consequently, hardening of the tissues, and degradation of ligaments and arteries has been observed, leading to an overall loss of function.
Co-author, Jiangyu Li, says, "This could be associated with aging and diabetes."
Yuanming Liu, Yunjie Wang, Ming-Jay Chow, Nataly Q. Chen, Feiyue Ma, Yanhang Zhang, and Jiangyu Li. Glucose suppresses biological ferroelectricity in aortic elastin. Physical Review Letters, 2013