The brain has a role to play in preventing the hardening of the arteries, new research suggests, with the potential to prevent the development of artery problems in people with type 2 diabetes.
The study, conducted by Jessica Yue, of the Department of Physiology in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, found a link between the brain’s regulation of fat metabolism and the development of atherosclerosis, a condition in which the arteries become narrower and harder. The condition is a significant risk factor in obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The study
Yue discovered that oleic acid, which is a natural monounsaturated fatty acid, triggers certain signals in the brain. In particular, it causes the liver to secrete less fat. The fat produced by the liver is a “triglyceride-rich, very-low-density lipoprotein…the kind of lipoprotein that is dangerous when its levels in the blood are elevated because it promotes atherosclerosis.”
The signal does not work in obese people, however, when blood lipid levels are, in most cases, very high. “In a model of diet-induced obesity, which then leads to insulin resistance and pre-diabetes, oleic acid no longer provides the fat-lowering trigger to the liver.”
Yue’s study, however, suggests that this problem can be overcomen, potentially revealing new ways to trigger the reduction in liver fat secretion levels in obese people.
Future studies and the significance of Yue’s findings
Future studies will assess the potential for the brain to regulate other liver functions, such as glucose production, one of the key factors in the development of type 2 diabetes. This research, which focuses on the brain’s ability to regulate organ function, could lead to new and more effective treatments for obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Yue said: “We know that when there is dyslipidemia, or an abnormal amount of fat in the bloodstream, it’s dangerous for health – largely because this can lead to obesity, obesity-related disorders such as type 2 diabetes, and atherosclerosis.
“If you can find ways to lower fats in the bloodstream, it helps to lower these chances of diabetes and cardiovascular disease as a result of this atherosclerosis.”
The research was published in Nature Communications.

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