UCLA researchers have identified a gene that may help prevent heart diseases.
A study published Monday found that a gene called MeXis regulates the expression of a protein that pumps cholesterol out of cells and into artery walls, ultimately lowering the chance of clogged arteries. The researchers, led by Tamer Sallam, an assistant professor of medicine, and Peter Tontonoz, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, found that mice without MeXis had almost twice as many blood vessel blockages than mice with normal MeXis levels, and increasing MeXis levels helped cells remove excess cholesterol more effectively.
MeXis is considered a selfish gene because it does not produce proteins and appears to have no function. Recent studies show that these genes still perform important biological functions by producing molecules called long non-coding RNAs, or IncRNAs. This study suggested IncRNAs affected the functioning of cells involved in the development of heart disease.
Researchers plan to investigate how MeXis impacts the function of cells in artery walls, according to a UCLA press release. They also plan to test various ways of altering MeXis activity and whether targeting the gene could help treat cardiovascular disease.