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Scientists study the role of a protein in the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Scientists at the Institut d'Investigacions Biomèdiques (CSIC-IDIBAPS) and at the Institut de Química Avançada de Catalunya, of the CSIC, have been awarded one of the 6 grants of the BBVA Foundation for biomedical research. The scientists will study the implication of a protein in  Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which is involved in obesity related diseases.

From left to right, , Gemma Fabriàs, Josefina Casas, Jose Carlos Fernández-Checa, M. del Carmen García-Ruiz.A protein called StARD1 could be involved in the development of the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is related to metabolic disorders like obesity or type 2 diabetes, and which could result in liver cancer or cirrhosis. It is quite a common disease as it affects near 25% of the world population.

Scientists at the Institut d'Investigacions Biomèdiques de Barcelona (CSIC-IDIBAPS) and at the Institut de Química Avançada de Catalunya (CSIC) will study the role of the StARD1 protein in this disease, in a project that has been awarded with one of the 6 grants of the BBVA Foundation for Biomedical research.

The project, named MitoCholERaxis, is led by Jose Carlos Fernández-Checa, a scientist at the IDIBAPS and IIBB. Also are involved are Mª del Carmen García-Ruiz, scientists at the IIBB and Gemma Fabrias, Josefina Cases i Nuria Bielsa from the IQAC.

A characteristic of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is that cholesterol accumulates in hepatocytes, the main type of liver cells

Protein StARD1 is responsible for transporting cholesterol to mitochondria, the organelles that produce the energy that cells need and which are essential for the metabolism.

A characteristic of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is that cholesterol accumulates in hepatocytes, the main type of liver cells; the cholesterol molecules accumulate in the  mitochondria.

Previous studies have demonstrated that obesity interfere the normal performance of Endoplasmic reticulum, another organelle that is involved in the maturation and distribution of proteins inside and outside the cell. When endoplasmic reticulum doesn’t work, proteins are not well synthesized. Therefore, they accumulate, preventing the normal development of some cell functions.

The project is aimed at understanding the link between endoplasmic reticulum fail and the cholesterol accumulation in mitochondria through this specific protein, StARD1.

The same team demonstrated in previous studies that the fail of the endoplasmic reticulum is related to overproduction of StARD1 protein. Now, the scientists want to induce obesity in genetically modified mice, which cannot synthesize StARD1.

“Demonstrating the role of this protein is a key for the fatty liver disease and opens new strategies for future treatments of diseases related to obesity”, says Jose Carlos Fernández-Checa.