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ETSU physiologist studying role of new gene in preventing fatty liver disease

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JOHNSON CITY (July 1, 2014) – Dr. Jonathan Peterson was a post-doctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine when his mentor, Dr. G. William Wong, discovered a family of genes that generate proteins secreted by tissues in the body, particularly adipose tissue, which stores fat.

A total of 15 new proteins, called C1q TNF-Related Protein 1-15 (CTRP1-15), were identified, and they were numbered in the order they were discovered.

“We had no idea what effect they had on the body, but because both of us had interest in metabolism and diabetes, we decided to take a look and see if there was any effect on glucose,” said Peterson, an assistant professor of health sciences in East Tennessee State University’s College of Public Health.

Four of them – CTRP1, CTRP2, CTRP3 and CTRP9 – did have an effect.

CTRP1, for example, lowered body weight and also improved glucose and insulin.  CTRP3, on the other hand, had a “significant but minor” effect.

But the researchers saw something else with CTRP3 that grabbed their attention.

The animal models had been fed a high-fat diet.  Peterson and Wong assumed that under observation the animals’ livers would appear yellowish and opaque. Instead, they found that the livers of those animals that had been given CTRP3 appeared perfectly healthy and normal.

Biochemical studies to further understand the role of CTRP3 in inhibiting fatty liver disease caused by a high-fat diet are continuing, but Peterson is now taking a slightly different approach in his lab at ETSU.  With a new grant from the university’s Research and Development Committee, Peterson is launching a new study that will explore the potential role of CTRP3 as a possible therapeutic target for preventing or treating fatty liver disease caused by alcoholism.

“We’ve already seen that it may have an effect on liver disease caused by a high-fat diet, so now we want to know if it can prevent accumulation of fat on the liver when alcohol is involved,” Peterson said.

That could have urgent relevance, according to Peterson, who adds that there are currently no approved pharmaceutical treatments for this condition.

Cirrhosis of the liver is a leading cause of death in the United Sates, and nearly half of all cases are attributed to alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Peterson joined the ETSU faculty in 2012 and teaches anatomy and physiology to undergraduate and graduate students.

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