Research into fat metabolism: New options against viruses, cancer and obesity

New mechanisms for controlling fatty acid metabolism discovered

Fats are the basis of life in the human body. Fats mainly consist of fatty acids. So far, however, it has been largely unknown how exactly the formation of fatty acids into fats works. A German team of researchers has now deciphered the process of fatty acid metabolism. The enzyme ACC plays a key role in this process and at the same time offers completely new approaches in the fight against viruses, cancer and obesity.

Researchers from the Biozentrum of the University of Basel have shown for the first time how the enzyme ACC initiates the production of fatty acids. According to the scientists, the enzyme assembles into fibers. The way in which this happens determines fatty acid production. This process could serve as a target for various therapies or medications. The results of the study were recently published in the renowned journal "Nature".

Fat metabolism as a target for viruses and cancer cells

According to the researchers, the enzyme ACC has a central position in metabolism, making it an important target molecule for the development of medicines. In the case of cancer or viral infections, this could be used because both viruses and cancer cells need tons of fatty acids as building blocks to form membranes.

Straighten derailed metabolism in obesity

In the condition known as metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity with a lot of abdominal fat indicate major health risks. Fat metabolism in particular seems to play an important role here. Belly fat releases disease-causing substances into the blood, as an international team of researchers from the German Diabetes Center recently found out. The enzyme ACC offers a target for this metabolic derangement. The scientists from Basel speak of possible inhibitors that could reduce fatty acid production.

Fat is not the same as fat

There are a large number of different fats in the human body, which are used, for example, as fuel and energy storage, but also as a building block for messenger substances, cell membranes and hormones. However, one thing unites all types of fats: They are all made from the same raw material, namely the enzyme ACC or long acetyl-CoA carboxylase. The researchers describe the enzyme as the "linchpin of fatty acid synthesis".

A long unsolved puzzle

ACC and its approximate function have been known for almost sixty years. So far, the functionality has not been fully clarified. The research team led by Prof. Timm Maier brought light into the dark here. "We were able to decode the structure of the ACC fibers for the first time and demonstrate their influence on enzyme activity," explains Maier in a press release from the University of Basel. The team had thus solved a long unsolved mystery in metabolism.

How ACC regulates fat metabolism

"ACC is an important factor in metabolism, it is the pacemaker enzyme for fatty acid production," the researchers write. The enzyme proves to be exceptionally complex. Half of it consists of catalysts that can initiate and accelerate chemical processes. The other half takes on control functions and acts as a kind of sensor as to where, when and how much fatty acid production there is.

On and off switch included

The enzyme is not always active. Metabolic products that indicate an excess of carbohydrates bring ACC into the active state. "Dozens of ACC enzymes are stored in one fiber," says Maier. In the fiber, each enzyme takes on a stable form in which the enzymatic areas are aligned with each other. This is the only way ACC can carry out chemical reactions and boost fatty acid production, reports the expert. As long as ACC is not integrated in a fiber, the individual enzymes can move freely.

Unique regulation options

"The ACC can also be switched off by fiber formation," the scientists say. The ACC would form an inactive fiber in which the enzymatic areas of the ACC are strictly separated. The researchers speak of a diverse regulation that has so far been unique. (vb)

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