Now, scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have discovered three unexpected players that help a cell overloaded with fat initiate its own demise. They have shown that these molecules leading a cell to self-destruct are not proteins as might be expected, but small strands of RNA, a close chemical cousin to DNA. Since these small nucleolar RNAs play well-known roles in building proteins, the researchers were surprised to implicate them in killing cells.
The research, published July 6 in Cell Metabolism, is the first to link these small RNA molecules to the cellular damage characteristic of common metabolic diseases like diabetes.
“When these three RNAs are present, the cells die in response to metabolic stress, such as exposure to large amounts of fats,” says cardiologist Jean E. Schaffer, MD, the Virginia Minnich Distinguished Professor of Medicine at Washington University. “But if these three RNAs are missing, the cells don’t die.”
The original article featuring Jean Schaffer, M.D., appearing in the WUSTL Newsroom is available: Surprising culprits behind cell death from fat and sugar overload.