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Fat overload kills mammalian cells key culprit identified

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.

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."

Other studies have linked the genesis of heart failure to fat-induced cell dysfunction and cell death in the heart. "As physicians our primary focus in diabetic patients is on glucose control," says Schaffer, a member of the Center for Cardiovascular Research at the School of Medicine and a cardiologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. "But it appears we should also be more aggressive with respect to lowering lipids such as triglycerides and fatty acids."

With the discovery of EF1A-1's role, this study is the first to identify a critical step in the pathway that leads from high cellular fat to cell death, according to Schaffer. EF1A-1 is an extremely abundant protein with several diverse functions within cells, including protein synthesis and maintenance of the cytoskeleton, the cell's internal support structure.

In mammalian cells grown in culture, the researchers saw that EF1A-1 and the fat palmitat
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Contact: Gwen Ericson
ericsong@wustl.edu
314-286-0141
Washington University School of Medicine
18-Jan-2006


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