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Key to 'curing' obesity may lie in worms that destroy their own fat: McGill researchers
Date:12/8/2008

This release is available in French.

A previously unknown mutation discovered in a common roundworm holds the promise of new treatments for obesity in humans, McGill University researchers say. Their study was published Dec. 3 in the journal Nature, and was funded by the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

In lean times, a normal Caenorhabditis elegans worm goes into a form of suspended animation called "dauer" that slows its metabolism and allows it to survive for extended periods without food.

"When they go into dauer, these worms radically alter their metabolism," said Dr. Richard Roy, a cancer researcher at McGill's Department of Biology specializing in the control of cell division. "They shut down everything energy-consuming, which includes foraging, cell division and reproduction."

Unlike other "hibernating" organisms, C. elegans maintains a degree of mobility during dauer by stocking up on energy in the form of fats or lipids which they store in special cells or reserves.

"This allows them to live up to six months without eating, instead of the two weeks they would otherwise have," Roy explained. A worm with the newly discovered mutation, however, will usually die within a week of going into dauer

"These mutants somehow cannot shut down the process of cell division, which is why we noticed them in the first place," Roy said. "However, that's not what kills them. They cannot adjust their metabolism correctly. They store up their six-month lipid reserves, but as soon as they shift into dauer they use them up within a few days. This is because they lack an enzyme that blocks the activity of a very important triglyceride lipase. Without this regulation the lipase burns up all the fat it encounters and destroys the worm's energy reserves."

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Contact: Mark Shainblum
mark.shainblum@mcgill.ca
514-398-2189
McGill University
Source:Eurekalert

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