One Treatment for High Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Could Help Patients with Metabolic Syndrome


Recent research has shown that babies born today are fatter than babies born twenty years ago, but scientists at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital have identified a molecular switch that regulates fat and cholesterol production. They hope this will lead to a treatment for metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a condition where patients have high cholesterol, obesity, type-2 or pre-diabetes and high blood pressure. This usually affects adults. The study’s lead investigator, Dr. Ander Näär said “We have identified a key protein that acts together with a family of molecular switches to turn on cholesterol and fat (or lipid) production. The identification of this protein interaction and the nature of the molecular interface may one day allow us to pursue a more comprehensive approach to the treatment of metabolic syndrome.” Näär is assistant professor of cell biology at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center.

After eating a meal, a family of proteins acts as switches to turn on cholesterol and fat (or lipid) production. This family of proteins is known as SREBPs, or sterol regulatory element binding proteins. Between meals, the production of cholesterol and lipids should be turned off, however, excess intake of foods, coupled with lack of exercise, appear to disturb the normal checks and balances that control SREBPs, resulting in overproduction of cholesterol and lipids.

Now that they know how the molecular switch works, it is hoped a treatment can be developed to treat all the conditions. Treatments have focused primarily on the individual elements. For instance, patients may take a specific medicine for their blood pressure and another for their cholesterol.

“Of course there are numerous hurdles that would need to be overcome before finding specific and effective treatments based on these findings,” says Dr. Näär. If small molecules that specifically interfere with the interaction of SREBPs and ARC105 could be identified, careful studies in human cells and in mice would be needed to verify the specificity and efficacy in repressing cholesterol and fat production. “Unforeseen side effects of such small molecules in mouse studies or in human clinical trials could also emerge, prohibiting further follow-up”, cautions Dr. Näär.

The study is published in the online version of the scientific journal Nature and will appear in the August 10th print edition.

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