A promising new way to potentially inhibit cholesterol production in the body has been discovered, a way that may yield treatments as effective as existing medications but with fewer side-effects. In a study published in the March 2 issue of the journal Cell Metabolism, a team of researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences-led by Associate Professor Andrew Brown–report that an enzyme-squalene mono-oxygenase (SM)-plays a previously unrecognized role as a key checkpoint in cholesterol production. SM is one of at least 20 enzymes involved in the assembly line when cholesterol is made throughout the body but only one of these enzymes-HMG-CoA reductase (HMGR)–is currently targeted by medications to lower cholesterol levels in the blood. "The class of drugs most commonly used to lower cholesterol-statins–are the blockbusters of the pharmaceutical world and work by inhibiting HMGR," said Professor Brown. "But HMGR is involved very early on in the assembly line, so inhibiting it affects all the other steps down the line–and other useful products it provides-and that can give rise in some people to unwanted side-effects, such as muscle pain. What's exciting about this previously overlooked SM enzyme is that it acts as a checkpoint much further down the assembly line, which should mean that it can be more specifically targeted at cholesterol production instead and leave the early part of the assembly line undisturbed. Cholesterol has developed something of a bad name, so many people don't realize that it is actually essential for a healthy body. It's needed, for example, to make sex hormones and to help build the walls of every single cell in our bodies."
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