Hepatitis C progression associated with fat enzymes found in liver cells

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Reviewed by Michael Davies, MD Oct. 13, 2010

A newly discovered enzyme linked to fat storage in the liver may be needed for hepatitis C (HCV) to spread, according to findings published in Nature Science. By learning more about this compound, researchers may be able to develop more precise therapies to combat this disease.

For this study, investigators focused on the formation of fat droplets in liver cells, which are caused by several enzymes including DGAT1. By zeroing in on this compound, researchers hope they may be able to determine when this compound forms during the virus' lifecycle, and stop its growth.

Upon detecting DGAT1, the team found that the enzyme merges with the viral nucleocapsid core protein, which is needed for the virus to attack healthy cells. Blocking DGAT1 development prevents the core protein from producing more fat droplets, and the infection is unable to produce new hepatitis C viruses.

Eva Herker, co-author of the study, concluded that if researchers can "inhibit DGAT1 with a drug, the liver [will] still produces fat droplets through another DGAT enzyme, but these droplets cannot be used by HCV."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that liver damage caused by hepatitis C leads to between 8,000 and 10,000 deaths each year in the U.S., and this patient population accounts for approximately 4,000 liver transplants done nationwide.

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