Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) has increasingly become a concern for people with diabetes and the providers who care for them. NAFLD causes insulin resistance in the liver, which plays a large role in the development of the diabetes. Young Do Koo, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Scholar in the Abel Lab, received a three-year Postdoctoral Fellowship Award from the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Koo will investigate the effects of increased fat export in UKL1-deficient livers, which may be a cause of NAFLD.
ULK1 is a serine/threonine kinase enzyme, which triggers autophagy in the liver. Decreased autophagy prevents the replacement of damaged cells with healthy cells. And previous research suggests decreased autophagy in the liver leads to obesity and NAFLD. ULK1 also modifies the ability of the liver to process fat and glucose using mediators.
Using mice knockout models, Koo hopes to identify the relationship between the transference of proteins like ULK1 to molecules and the processing of fats and glucose in the liver. Additionally, Koo will examine whether overexpression of ULK1 might prevent abnormal retention of fat in the liver cells.
“When ULK1 was deleted from the liver, it was observed that fatty liver was induced without having a significant effect on autophagy,” Koo said. “We will establish the novel function and specific mechanism of ULK1 in lipid metabolism through this study.”
With a better understanding of ULK1’s role in the liver, clinicians may find a new target in their treatment of people with diabetes.