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Latest epidemic? High cholesterol, obesity in fruit flies
Date:12/2/2009

his compound. When this binding occurs, it allows DNA to be read, which switches genes on and off that help maintain proper levels of cholesterol, according to Thummel, who also holds an H.A. and Edna Benning Presidential Endowed Chair in Human Genetics.

The researchers used a technique developed by University of Utah biologist Kent Golic, Ph.D., in which they silenced or disabled the DHR96 protein so it couldn't function in fruit flies. They then grew flies in which DHR96 was silenced. Depending on what the fruit flies were fed, lean or fat diets, they had either too little or too much cholesterol. Flies fed too little cholesterol died, while those with too much developed hypercholesterolemia or chronically excessive cholesterol levels. At the same time, flies in which DHR96 functioned normally maintained a proper level of cholesterol.

"When they lacked the DHR96 receptor, the flies were unable to maintain cholesterol homeostasis," Thummel says. "This is similar to what happens in humans who have high cholesterol levels."

Fruit flies are good for such research insights in large part because of the insects' short life span about 30 days meaning their development and biological processes are more easily observed than in other, longer-lived models, such as mice. Fruit flies also are easy to manipulate genetically and are less expensive to study compared to mice or other models, according to Thummel. In addition, the mechanisms by which metabolism is controlled in fruit flies are very similar to those in mice or humans.

"We can do a lot more mechanistic studies in a fly than are possible in a mouse," he says. "We can study metabolic pathways faster and more in-depth."

Along with its important role in helping to maintain proper levels of cholesterol, DHR96 also plays an integral part in regulating dietary fat metabolism, Thummel and another U of U researcher report in a Dec. 2 study in Cell Metabolism.

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Contact: Phil Sahm
phil.sahm@hsc.utah.edu
801-581-2517
University of Utah Health Sciences
Source:Eurekalert

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