THURSDAY, Jan. 4, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. researchers say they've identified a factor that may contribute to high levels of blood fats called triglycerides.
High triglyceride levels affect nearly 10 percent of Americans. Having high triglyceride levels can lead to a build-up of plaque in the arteries, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
A number of factors contribute to high triglyceride levels, including genetics, diabetes, a poor diet, drug interactions, and chronic alcohol consumption.
Now, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine have found another potential cause of high triglycerides -- changes in heparan sulfate in the liver.
Heparan sulfate is a complex sugar produced by all cells in the body, including cells in the liver. It is related to the anti-coagulant, heparin.
When the researchers created a mouse model with a mutation of heparan sulfate, the mice developed high triglyceride levels.
The researchers also combined the heparan sulfate mutation with a mutation in the LDL receptor, which is responsible for clearing cholesterol from the arteries. They showed that heparan sulfate is responsible for not only clearing triglycerides, but also cholesterol, from the blood.
"The work confirms that heparan sulfate in the liver plays a crucial role in clearing fat," Jeffrey D. Esko, a professor of cellular and molecular medicine at the university, said in a prepared statement. "These molecules clear triglycerides and cholesterol from the blood, working alongside the better known LDL receptors," he said.
In animals that have been induced to have diabetes, changes in liver heparan sulfate often appear. The next step for the research team will be to induce diabetes in animals and examine the role of heparan sulfate in more detail.
"Such studies could lead to new drugs that change heparan sulfate in order to lower fat levels in patients," Esko said."
The American Heart Association has more about triglycerides.