S'pore scientists discover genetic control mechanism for obesity

A*STAR scientists have discovered a new signalling pathway that controls both obesity and atherosclerosis - a progressive disease of the large arteries.

The scientists, from the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) and the Singapore Bioimaging Consortium (SBIC), found that mice deficient in a certain gene are resistant to weight gain and atherosclerosis.

These diseases are typically accompanied by the accumulation of lipid droplets in fat cells and in foam cells respectively. Foam cells can subsequently rupture, damaging blood vessels and contributing to further progression of atherosclerosis.

The scientists discovered that mice deficient in the gene Wip1, even when fed a high-fat diet, were resistant to obesity and atherosclerosis by preventing the accumulation of lipid droplets.

This appeared to be through increased rate of cellular breakdown of lipid droplets.

Obesity and atherosclerosis-related diseases account for over one-third of deaths in the Western world.

Atherosclerosis is an underlying cause of many cardiovascular diseases. In Singapore, 10.8 per cent of the population is obese and cardiovascular disease accounted for 31.9 per cent of all deaths in 2010.

These findings, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, open the way for the development of new therapeutic interventions for obesity and atherosclerosis.

Scientists are also hopeful that the discovery can be mapped onto cancer for the suppression of tumour progression.

Similar to suppression of obesity and atherosclerosis, the activation of autophagy in cancer cells could result in the degradation of cellular content essential for cancer cells to sustain rapid proliferation.

This, in turn, could result in suppression of cancer growth.

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