DEC 27, 2016 11:04 AM PST

Improving Health in Obese and Diabetic Patients Using Protein Silencing

Obesity is a common epidemic worldwide, but scientists are now bringing to light an associated health issue, fatty liver disease. It is a growing problem around the world, especially in Western regions where obesity is the most prevalent. Fatty liver disease is one of the most common forms of chronic liver disease, affecting 80 to 100 million people.

One of the liver’s primary functions is to help digest lipids and regulate blood levels of sugars, protein and fat.  When a healthy liver becomes fatty, it cannot perform these tasks efficiently.  Instead of working to dispose of fat molecules, a fatty liver does the opposite and accumulates fat. The condition is linked to other metabolic syndromes, including increased abdominal fat, insulin resistance, high blood pressure and high triglyceride blood levels.

An example of a healthy liver compared with an enlarged fatty liver.

Angel Baldan, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Saint Louis University, and members of his lab research lipid metabolism and recently examined how lipids are metabolized in both the liver and fat tissue in mouse models. In their study, published in the Journal of Lipid Research, the group was able to improve blood sugar levels and reduce body fat by silencing a fat specific protein found in liver and adipose tissue.

“Obesity and fatty liver disease are intimately connected and pose a severe public health burden, given their high and growing prevalence in both adults and children,” Baldan said. “The toolbox to manage patients with a fatty liver is scarce, beyond lifestyle modifications, appetite suppressant drugs and major surgical procedures. Better medical interventions are sorely needed for these patients.”

In order to combat fat storage in the liver, Baldan focused on proteins that regulate lipid droplet metabolism. Lipid droplets accumulate in liver cells, and are controlled by proteins that decide whether they are stored in or leave the cell. FSP27 is one such protein, a lipid droplet-associated protein that prevents lipid mobilization and promotes lipid storage within a liver cell.

FSP27 is not present in healthy liver cells. However, it becomes abundant in the livers of people who consume high fat diets and is directly associated with the accumulation of triglycerides in the liver. In 2015, Baldan’s lab discovered that FSP27 is actually necessary for the accumulation of triglycerides in the liver.

The team experimented with two mouse models, one that consumed a high fat diet that results in obesity, high blood sugar and fatty liver disease, and one that was genetically modified to have the same issues. Baldan then treated both groups of mice with or without antisense oligonucleotides to silence FSP27.

By silencing FSP27 in both models, the team observed a similar outcome: decreased visceral fat, increased insulin sensitivity in fatty tissue and in the liver, and improved whole-body glycemic control. While there was an overall improvement in health and liver function, they did not observe a marked decrease in triglyceride accumulation in the liver. Since FSP27 is necessary for lipid molecule accumulation, there might possibly be a separate mobilization protein without which the lipid molecules still appear to be stuck within the liver.

Next steps are to investigate a way to use silenced FSP27 to also reduce lipid accumulation within the liver. Even without significantly improving fatty liver disease itself, the treatment could be used to improve the overall health of obese and diabetic patients.

Sources: SLU News, Journal of Lipid Research

About the Author
  • I love all things science and am passionate about bringing science to the public through writing. With an M.S. in Genetics and experience in cancer research, marketing and technical writing, it is a pleasure to share the latest trends and findings in science on LabRoots.
You May Also Like
NOV 14, 2018
Microbiology
NOV 14, 2018
Rare Atacama Rainfall Events Devastate Microbial Life
Northern Chile is home to the driest desert on Earth, the Atacama Desert....
NOV 25, 2018
Earth & The Environment
NOV 25, 2018
What Would Happen if An Asteroid Slammed Into One of Earth's Oceans?
Have you ever wondered what would happen if an asteroid plopped right into one of Earth’s oceans? Curious researchers wanted to know too, and so they...
DEC 09, 2018
Chemistry & Physics
DEC 09, 2018
Measurement of Time, Redefined
Once defined by the predictable swing of a finely-tuned pendulum in the classic era, the most precise clock these days relies on the electron transition fr...
DEC 12, 2018
Plants & Animals
DEC 12, 2018
Dracula Ant's Bite Recognized as the Fastest Animal Movement on Record
Researchers are astounded after discovering what they claim to be the fastest-known animal movement on record. The findings, recently uncovered by research...
JAN 14, 2019
Space & Astronomy
JAN 14, 2019
Will the X3 Ion Thruster Revolutionize Space Travel?
Chemical burn rockets can produce a lot of thrust, but only for a short period; this makes them ideal for lofting space vehicles out of Earth’s atmos...
JAN 28, 2019
Plants & Animals
JAN 28, 2019
Birds and Fish Exploit 'Wakes' to Move in Groups Without Colliding
When birds and fish move around, they often do so in large groups. These groups are called flocks in the bird world, but when it comes to fish, we commonly...
Loading Comments...