Using transgenic mice, scientists at the University ofCalifornia, Berkeley, have shown that the high-densitylipoprotein portion of blood cholesterol can protect against theearly stages of atherosclerosis induced by a fat-rich diet.

High concentrations of HDL, which ferries fat in and out of thebloodstream, have been linked with protection againstatherosclerosis. However, the current study, published today inNature, directly demonstrates the protective action of humanHDL.

A strain of mouse prone to fat-clogged arteries was given thehuman gene that codes for the main protein of HDL. Thetransgenic mice that made the human protein, as instructed bythe transgene, developed far less fatty streaking of their mainartery after eating either of two fat-laden versions ofstandard mouse chow, the scientists reported.

The transgenic mice had levels of plasma HDL twice those ofthe genetically unaltered, fat-susceptible strain of mice.

"Insights from the mice will be useful as evidence that drugsto alter HDL levels will be worthwhile" as therapy foratherosclerosis, said Edward M. Rubin, a Lawrence BerkeleyLaboratory researcher who participated in the study.

Rubin told BioWorld that he thinks gene therapy would be apossible approach to treatment, as "atherosclerosis is a muchmore common condition" than the rare genetic disorders thatare currently targeted for genetic correction. -- RobertaFriedman, Ph.D.

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