Scientists uncover how trans fats contribute to cell death
Trans fats, or trans fatty acids, are already known to be damaging to health, contributing to conditions like cardiovascular disease. Now we may know more about just how they cause this damage, as scientists at Tohoku University have found that certain fatty acids speed up cell death.
If the DNA inside cells is damaged, the cell usually just patches it up. But if that damage gets too advanced, sometimes the only thing left for the cell to do is destroy itself. This type of programmed cell death is known as apoptosis, and it’s an important process to prevent unhealthy cells proliferating and causing conditions like cancer.
But of course, too much apoptosis is also a bad thing, as important cells die off too quickly. This can lead to neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases, among many other problems. And interestingly, these same health issues are often associated with trans fats, so the researchers on the new study set out to investigate a possible link.
"Accumulating evidence has associated the consumption of trans-fatty acids with various diseases, including some lifestyle diseases, atherosclerosis and dementia," says Atsushi Matsuzawa, an author of the study. “But the underlying causes have remained largely unknown.”
The Tohoku team tested the effects of various fatty acids on apoptosis. First, they induced DNA damage using doxorubicin, a common cancer drug. Then, they examined what impact fatty acids might have, if any, on the cell death that followed.
Of the trans fatty acids they tried, two had an effect – elaidic and linoelaidic acids both boosted the apoptosis. The team also uncovered the mechanism for why that occurs. Usually, DNA damage causes mitochondria – the powerhouses of cells – to produce reactive oxygen species (ROS), molecules that destroy cells. The two trans fats in question appeared to increase the amount of ROS produced, thereby also increasing apoptosis.
"Our research revealed a novel toxic function and mechanism of action of trans-fatty acids, which can account for pathological mechanisms, including atherosclerosis," says Matsuzawa. "This significant finding will provide a molecular basis to understand how trans-fatty acids cause disease."
The team says that understanding this process better could open up new drug targets to treat diseases associated with trans fats.
The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Source: Tohoku University