Wrinkle-free mice provide clues about obesity, wrinkles and hair growth

St. Louis, April 2, 2003 -- What do wrinkles, hair growth and obesity have in common? All three may involve the same gene, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The team discovered that mice with a mutation in the gene that produces a protein already being investigated as a target for anti-obesity drugs fail to develop wrinkles or normal hair growth.

The study is scheduled to appear the week of April 7 in the Online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Jeffrey H. Miner, Ph.D, associate professor of medicine and of cell biology and physiology, led the study; Casey L. Moulson, Ph.D, research associate in medicine, is first author.

"This certainly was a surprise to us," Miner says. "Obviously these are very preliminary findings, but they may provide insight into a variety of conditions. For example, if a drug could partially inhibit this protein, it might be able to mimic some of the traits of these wrinkle-free mice. These results also raise the possibility that anti-obesity drugs targeting this protein may cause side effects elsewhere in the body."

While developing genetically altered mice for a different purpose, the team discovered that one strain of mice had perpetually open mouths and extremely tight, thick skin. The animals resembled humans with a rare genetic disorder called restrictive dermopathy. Like humans with the disease, the mice died shortly after birth.

In addition, when skin samples from these mice were grafted onto healthy animals, they did not develop nearly as much hair as skin grafts from normal mice.

The team was even more surprised by the location of the genetic mutation in these mice it was in a gene that triggers production of a protein believed to transport fatty acids. The gene already is considered a potential target for anti-obesity drugs.

The protein, called fatty acid transport protein 4 (FATP4) is

Contact: Gila Z. Reckess
Washington University School of Medicine

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