University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers have genetically engineered tomatoes to produce a peptide that mimics the actions of good cholesterol when consumed. Published in the April issue of the Journal of Lipid Research and featured on the cover, their early study found that mice that were fed these tomatoes in freeze-dried, ground form had less inflammation and plaque build-up in their arteries.
“This is one of the first examples of a peptide that acts like the main protein in good cholesterol and can be delivered by simply eating the plant,” said senior author Dr. Alan M. Fogelman, executive chair of the department of medicine and director of the atherosclerosis research unit at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “There was no need to isolate or purify the peptide — it was fully active after the plant was eaten.”
After the tomatoes were eaten, the peptide surprisingly was found to be active in the small intestine but not in the blood, suggesting that targeting the small intestine may be a new strategy to prevent diet-induced atherosclerosis, the plaque-based disease of the arteries that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Specifically for the study, the team genetically engineered tomatoes to produce 6F, a small peptide that mimics the action of apoA-1, the chief protein in high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good” cholesterol). Scientists fed the tomatoes to mice that lacked the ability to remove low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) from their blood and readily developed inflammation and atherosclerosis when consuming a high-fat diet.
The team chose a fruit — the tomato — that could be eaten without requiring cooking that might break down the peptide. The researchers were able to successfully genetically express the peptide in tomato plants, and the ripened fruit was then freeze-dried and ground into powder for use in the study.
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