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Researchers Identify 2 Genes Linked to Fatty Liver Disease
Date:3/24/2010

Could yield better tests, treatments for condition that can cause liver damage, type 2 diabetes

WEDNESDAY, March 24 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have identified two gene variants that increase the risk of both the most common chronic liver disease in the United States as well as type 2 diabetes.

People who carry the variants of a gene for apolipoprotein C3 (APOC3), which produces an enzyme important in fat metabolism, have a higher incidence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and also insulin resistance, according to a report in the March 25 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The research group was led by Dr. Gerald I. Shulman, a professor of physiological chemistry, medicine and cellular and molecular physiology at Yale University.

Identification of the gene variants "might make it possible to screen individuals to see if they have a higher risk of fatty liver disease," Shulman said. "It also can provide an ideal drug target to prevent development of fatty liver disease and insulin resistance."

Fatty liver disease can be caused by excessive alcoholic consumption and obesity. Its incidence has increased in the United States, and more than 30 percent of Americans are estimated to have it, Shulman said.

In many cases, excess buildup of fat in the liver causes only minor problems. But it can progress to cause major, life-threatening deterioration of liver function. In the same way, insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes, a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular problems.

Shulman and his colleagues first looked for the APOC3 gene variants in 95 lean Asian Indian men, an ethnic group in which the incidence of fatty liver disease is high, for unknown reasons. "Carriers of these gene variants had 5.5 percent fat in their liver, and were also markedly insulin-resistant," Shulman said.

The variants cause higher levels of APO3C, which in
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