By Rene Bodack
The University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine announced another research success last week, finding new properties indicating cholesterol does not fully deserve its nasty reputation.
Until now, cholesterol was thought to be mainly a component of cell structure, causing atherosclerosis and hence various heart diseases when concentrated too highly.
However, associate professor of physiology and biophysics Dr. Jens Coorssen and his U of C team have found two new positive roles of cholesterol. It has an organizing role in lipid transports and regulates secretion of compounds from specialized cells, including the release of neurotransmitters essential to brain function and the secretion of insulin from the pancreatic cells. Therefore, a low level of cholesterol in the human body may lead to other dysfunctions.
“The results of this research are consistent with some side-effects seen in people being treated for high cholesterol,” said Dr. Coorssen. “These findings suggest that the widespread use of conventional anti-cholesterol treatments may need to be reconsidered in terms of more individualized dosages.”
The team used the eggs of sea urchins for their studies. The eggs secrete many pure cortial vesicles whose fusion is similar to the process in neurons, making an ideal model for the neural system.
The team’s findings will be published in the Journal of Cell Science.
The project was supported by the Canadian Institute of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. The equipment was purchased with a Canadian Foundation for Innovation grant.