UK Scientists Discover How Cells Respond to Fasting

As modern lifestyles and high-calorie diets drive the United Kingdom’s obesity levels up, researchers from the University of Warwick have found how cells respond to fasting and activate the process called autophagy, which means a more healthful lifestyle can be promoted to help people maintain a healthy body weight.

The United Kingdom has the highest level of obesity in Western Europe, and it’s estimated that more than one-half of the UK population could be obese by 2050. Obesity is a significant risk factor for increased morbidity and mortality. The cause of the rapid rise in obesity has been blamed in part on modern lifestyles, including high-calorie diets.

Intermittent fasting, alternate-day fasting, and other forms of periodic caloric restriction may help to maintain a healthy body weight and have gained popularity during the last few years. To respond to fasting, cells use autophagy, a cellular self-recycling process.

A team of researchers led by Ioannis Nezis, PhD, a professor in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick, discovered how cells activate autophagy genes during fasting. In the paper titled “Regulation of Expression of Autophagy Genes by Atg8a-interacting Partners Sequoia, YL-1 and Sir2 in Drosophila,” published in the journal Cell Reports, Anne-Claire Jacomin, PhD; Stavroula Petridi, PhD; PhD student Marisa Di Monaco; and Nezis have discovered proteins which are required for the transcription of autophagy genes.

The proteins are called Sequoia, YL-1 and Sir2 and interact with the cytoplasmic autophagy-related protein Atg8a. These interactions recruit Atg8a in the nucleus to control the transcription of autophagy genes. This is the first study that uncovers a nuclear role of the cytoplasmic protein Atg8a.

“Understanding the molecular mechanisms of activation of autophagy genes during fasting will help us to use interventions to activate the autophagic pathways to maintain a normal body weight and promote healthy well-being,” Nezis says.

— Source: University of Warwick