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Genes Linked to Cholesterol in Cells Are Identified

Discovery could lead to new treatment targets, researchers say,,

TUESDAY, July 7 (HealthDay News) -- Twenty genes that play major roles in controlling cholesterol within cells have been identified by German researchers, who said that some of the genes may play a role in heart disease risk and offer new targets for drug treatment.

The 20 genes are likely to be "immediately relevant" for maintaining cholesterol levels in the cell, as well as controlling the uptake of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the researchers explained in the July 8 issue of Cell Metabolism.

"High cholesterol in the blood is considered to be responsible for excess cardiovascular morbidity and mortality," Dr. Heiko Runz, of the University of Heidelberg, said in a news release from the journal's publisher. "Blood cholesterol levels are controlled by cholesterol in cells. Therefore, some of the genes identified by us as regulators of cellular cholesterol in future studies might turn out to be disease genes that contribute to hypercholesterolemia [high cholesterol] in some cases."

The genes identified in the study may also have potential as targets for new cholesterol-lowering drugs, the researchers say. And the new methods used in the study could help identify many more cholesterol genes.

"Until now, disease-associated genes affecting blood cholesterol levels have successfully been identified in single families and, more recently, genomic studies involving large number of patients," Runz and colleagues wrote.

"Most of what we know about the molecular machinery that keeps cholesterol levels balanced, however, comes from using cultured cell models," they said. "A functional analysis of many genes at once by the integrated functional genomics technology applied here now harbors potential not only to ease identification, but also to better describe the molecular roles of cholesterol regulators in health and disease."

More information

The American Heart Association has more about cholesterol.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Cell Press, news release, July 7, 2009

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