Investigating the harmful health effects of excess fat, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have identified a protein that triggers death in mammalian cells overloaded with saturated fat.
The internal "skeleton" (in red) of cells is altered by exposure to high fat.
When the researchers halted production of this protein, called EF1A-1, the cells were able to thrive in ordinarily damaging amounts of the saturated fat palmitate, a fat abundant in Western diets. At the same concentration of palmitate, normal cells still producing EF1A-1 rapidly died. The study will be published in the February 2006 issue of Molecular Biology of the Cell.
"When lipids (fats) accumulate in tissues other than adipose tissue, cellular dysfunction or cell death results," says senior author Jean Schaffer, M.D., associate professor of medicine and of molecular biology and pharmacology. "For example, preliminary studies on animals suggest that the accumulation of fat in the pancreas contributes to the development of diabetes, and accumulation of lipids in skeletal muscle of leads to insulin resistance."
Gwen Ericson | EurekAlert!
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