Acetate, the major component found in household vinegar, stimulates the formation of new red blood cells, as recently discovered by UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers. This discovery could lead to advancements in anemia treatments.
The study, which was recently published in Nature Medicine, was funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institutes of Health, and led by Dr. Joseph Garcia, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern and staff physician-scientist at the VA North Texas Health Care System.
“Using rational interventions based on the mechanistic insights gleaned from our current studies, we may be able to treat acutely or chronically anemic patients with acetate supplements and thereby reduce the need for blood transfusions or erythropoietin therapy,” explained Dr. Garcia.
Anemia is a very common blood disorder that affects 3.5 million people (including children, women of child-bearing age, and elderly people), and is caused by insufficient production of red blood cells. Erythrocytes (another name for red blood cells) are responsible for the delivery of oxygen to tissues throughout the body. In anemic patients, this delivery process works poorly, leading to weakness, fatigue, and decreased immune function.
Currently, erythropoietin (EPO) is administrated to treat anemia. EPO is a protein signaling molecule involved in red blood cell production (this production of red blood cells is also called erythropoiesis). However, this treatment carries with it side effects such as hypertension and thrombosis. With this new approach, acetate could eventually be a suitable supplement or a whole new alternative to erythropoietin administration.
According to Dr. Garcia and his team, acetate activates a molecular pathway that ultimately triggers erythropoiesis by stimulating the EPO and, consequently, results in red blood cell production. The researchers’ interest in studying acetate properties was spurred on by an experiment where they used genetically modified mice in low oxygen conditions (state known as hypoxia), wherein they observed that mice started to produce acetate to counteract the oxygen privation in cells.
“Our study shows that acetate functions as a biochemical ‘flare,’ linking changes in cell metabolism that occur during hypoxia with the activation of a selective stress signaling pathway,” Dr. Garcia clarified.
About UT Southwestern Medical Center and Dr. Garcia’s Team
UT Southwestern combines pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. It is one of the premier academic medical centers in the United States, and the institution’s faculty is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances. With more than 2,700 members, six of the Medical Center’s researchers have been awarded Nobel Prizes since 1985. UT Southwestern provides care in 40 specialties to more than 2 million patients per year.
According to a UT Southwestern press release, many other researchers were involved in Dr. Garcia’s study: “Dr. Chou-Long Huang, Professor of Internal Medicine and holder of the Jacob Lemann, M.D. Professorship in Calcium Transport; Dr. Robert Hammer, Professor of Biochemistry and the Cecil H. and Ida Green Comprehensive Center for Molecular, Computational, and Systems Biology, and holder of the Graydon Heartsill Professorship in Medical Science; Dr. Jay Horton, Professor of Internal Medicine and Molecular Genetics, holder of The Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Chair in Obesity & Diabetes Research; Dr. Robert Gerard, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology; Dr. Sarah Comerford, Assistant Professor of Molecular Genetics, and the Cecil H. and Ida Green Comprehensive Center for Molecular, Computational, and Systems Biology; Dr. Young-Ah Moon, Assistant Professor of Molecular Genetics; Dr. Jian Xie, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine; Min Xu, Research Scientist; Jason Nagati, Research Assistant; researchers Jiwen Li and Holly Walters; and Dr. Rui Chen, former Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine.”