We know that overweight men are more likely to get Type 2 diabetes than heavy women, but we haven't known why males are more susceptible to the condition. A new case study from the Buck Institute provides a possible answer by finding a major biological difference in male and female mice fed a high-fat diet.

According to the study, a certain protein, which aids nutrient sensing and metabolism, gets inhibited in only male mice fed a high-fat diet — not females. Researchers also reported that boosting the protein protects male mice from age-induced obesity and metabolic decline.

"We've known for a long time that there are differences in aging in men and women and in male and female mice," Brian Kennedy, PhD, senior author and President and CEO of the Buck Institute, explained in a recent statement. "Nearly every time we develop an intervention that slows aging or impacts healthspan in mice it either works better in males or in females and we speculate as to why that is the case. What we've identified here is one potential mechanism that could underlie the differences between males and females."

Kennedy added that the ultimate goal is to develop therapeutics to treat both diabetes and other age-related conditions in people, confirming that “gender is an essential part of the equation.”

Researchers focused on a specific function in a pathway that affects how nutrients are absorbed and which is linked to aging. They found that by adjusting the pathway, lifespans were extended in yeast, worms, flies, mice and, possibly, humans. How does gender fit in? The pathway is regulated differently in mice depending on gender.

"When we restored (a component in the pathway), the male mice became more like the females," Kennedy said. "They still got obese when they ate a high fat diet, they just didn't develop as much diabetes. They also accumulated less of the white 'belly fat' associated with diabetes and had lower levels of circulating lipids and triglycerides."

Source: Tsai SY, Greco ED, Carr KL, et al. Buck Institute Study Sheds L ight on Gender Differences in Diabetes and Aging. Cell Reports . 2016.