SMHS Researchers Investigate Liver Disease

A research team was awarded $2.4 million to evaluate the impact of the nervous system on non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

December 14, 2018
Colin Young
Colin Young

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), the accumulation of fat in the livers of people who drink little or no alcohol, affects one in three Americans. NAFLD is a significant risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance and hepatic carcinoma, and incidence of the disease is increasing with the growing obesity epidemic in the United States.

Based on previous studies, researchers believe endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, a protein folding process in the brain, is involved in the generation and maintenance of NAFLD. Changes in the nervous system, however, are not well understood.

Researchers from the School of Medicine and Health Sciences have been investigating the role of brain ER stress in NAFLD for three years. Researchers were recently awarded more than $2.4 million from the National Institutes of Health for their current study, which aims to better understand the role of cellular stress in the brain in NAFLD development.

“There’s mounting evidence that suggests ER stress-induced transcription factor activation is involved in the development of NAFLD,” said Colin Young, assistant professor of pharmacology and physiology at SMHS. “We don’t yet understand the changes that occur in the nervous system, however, they are crucial in the acute and long-term regulation of liver metabolism.”

Dr. Young and his team will examine the role of ER stress in the regulation of gene expression in brain regions during the development of NAFLD.

“To facilitate long-lasting alterations in central nervous system function, there needs to be changes in gene expression through regulation of inducible transcription factors,” Dr. Young said. “Dissecting the links between ER stress and transcription factor activation in NAFLD development has the potential to identify new therapeutic targets for the treatment and prevention of this condition.”

The NIH grant will fund the project through March 2023.

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The research team, led by Colin Young, was awarded $2.4 million by the National Institutes of Health.