Perspective and Reflection Article

Cell Stress and Chaperones

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 447-464

First online:

The importance of the cellular stress response in the pathogenesis and treatment of type 2 diabetes

  • Philip L. HooperAffiliated withDivision of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes, Department of Medicine, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Email author 
  • , Gabor BaloghAffiliated withInstitute of Biochemistry, Biological Research Center, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
  • , Eric RivasAffiliated withInstitute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas and University of Texas Southwestern Medical CenterDepartment of Kinesiology, Texas Woman’s University
  • , Kylie KavanaghAffiliated withDepartment of Pathology, Wake Forest School of Medicine
  • , Laszlo VighAffiliated withInstitute of Biochemistry, Biological Research Center, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

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Organisms have evolved to survive rigorous environments and are not prepared to thrive in a world of caloric excess and sedentary behavior. A realization that physical exercise (or lack of it) plays a pivotal role in both the pathogenesis and therapy of type 2 diabetes mellitus (t2DM) has led to the provocative concept of therapeutic exercise mimetics. A decade ago, we attempted to simulate the beneficial effects of exercise by treating t2DM patients with 3 weeks of daily hyperthermia, induced by hot tub immersion. The short-term intervention had remarkable success, with a 1 % drop in HbA1, a trend toward weight loss, and improvement in diabetic neuropathic symptoms. An explanation for the beneficial effects of exercise and hyperthermia centers upon their ability to induce the cellular stress response (the heat shock response) and restore cellular homeostasis. Impaired stress response precedes major metabolic defects associated with t2DM and may be a near seminal event in the pathogenesis of the disease, tipping the balance from health into disease. Heat shock protein inducers share metabolic pathways associated with exercise with activation of AMPK, PGC1-a, and sirtuins. Diabetic therapies that induce the stress response, whether via heat, bioactive compounds, or genetic manipulation, improve or prevent all of the morbidities and comorbidities associated with the disease. The agents reduce insulin resistance, inflammatory cytokines, visceral adiposity, and body weight while increasing mitochondrial activity, normalizing membrane structure and lipid composition, and preserving organ function. Therapies restoring the stress response can re-tip the balance from disease into health and address the multifaceted defects associated with the disease.