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Restricting Fatty Acids Could Help Treat Arthritis

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Fatty acids associated with obesity and diabetes may also contribute to the development of arthritis and leukaemia, new research suggests. The study could pave the way for new treatments for these diseases.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that the same enzymes involved in turning carbohydrates into the building blocks of fats also influence the health of specialised white blood cells called neutrophils.

Neutrophils are the most abundant type of white blood cell and a hallmark of inflammation, which is a key component of rheumatoid arthritis, the institution explained. Excessive levels of neutrophils also are common in patients with leukaemia.

“The link between these enzymes and neutrophils was a big surprise,” commented first author Irfan J. Lodhi, PhD, assistant professor of medicine. “We had never thought about treating rheumatoid arthritis or leukaemia by targeting enzymes that produce fatty acids, but this work supports that line of thinking.”

Lab experiments revealed that mice which were unable to make the enzymes needed to produce a certain type of fat abruptly lost weight and developed extremely low white blood cell counts, with very few neutrophils. Without this fat, called an ether lipid, neutrophils died.

According to Washington University School of Medicine, this discovery could lead to ether lipids being targeted as a way to reduce the number of neutrophils, and thereby limit inflammation, in diseases like arthritis. The researchers believe that the best approach would be to reduce, rather than eliminate, ether lipids because neutrophils are important in fighting infection.

Senior investigator Clay F. Semenkovich, MD, the Herbert S. Gasser Professor of Medicine, noted that the enzymes specifically target neutrophils without affecting other immune cells.

The findings of the study have been published in the journal Cell Metabolism.