Scientists at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio have identified four genes in baboons that influence levels of “bad” cholesterol. This discovery could lead to the development of new drugs to reduce the risk of heart disease. The new study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is published online and will appear in the July print issue of the Journal of Lipid Research.
Texas Biomed scientists screened their baboon colony of 1,500 animals to find three half-siblings with low levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,”' cholesterol, and three half-siblings with high levels of LDL. In the study, these animals were fed a high-cholesterol, high-fat diet for seven weeks. Scientists then used gene array technology and high throughput sequencers to home in on the genes expressed in the two groups and differentiate those in the low LDL group from those in the high LDL group. They discovered that four genes (TENC1, ERBB3, ACVR1B, and DGKA) influence LDL levels. Interestingly, these four genes are part of a signaling pathway important for cell survival, and disruption of this pathway promotes some types of cancer.
The new research suggests that knowing many of the genes responsible for heart disease may be necessary to devise effective treatments. For example, several genes may need to be targeted at once to control risk. Researchers say that the next step is to find the mechanism by which these genes influence LDL cholesterol. Read the study.