Meeting Mr. L

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

“Up above, how the bewitching eyes of the rose and the lips of the matinal carnation sparkle! How the maiden in the river laughs! And down below, the filter and the balance, the delicate chemistry of the liver, the storehouse of the subtle changes, no one sees or celebrates it, but, when it ages, or its mortar wastes away, the eyes of the rose are gone, the teeth of the carnation wilted and the maiden silent in the river”.

These are the words that Pablo Neruda, the famous poet, wrote to one of his biggest loves: The liver. That silent worker, faithful friend and mysterious organ that has so much to say about human health. Did you meet Mr L.?
This week we are celebrating World Health Day and it may be the perfect time to recall the importance of the liver to our body. The liver performs a variety of unique functions that are essential for the preservation of homeostasis, including glucose and lipid metabolism, xenobiotic detoxification and serum protein synthesis. Furthermore, it´s central position in systemic metabolism implies a prominent exposure to noxious stimuli derived from environmental toxicants, alcohol, viruses and dietary habits. This means that every time you eat too much fast food or drink more whisky than you should, the liver will be the one working a bit harder.

Amazing L. is not only a super star, it is the humble player, loved by the people, the one that keeps working when everyone has gone home and so, his tremendous power is complemented by an extraordinary regenerative capacity with hepatocytes, liver cells, having an almost unlimited proliferative potential.

Understanding how the liver works is similar to finding the Sorcerer's Stone, the holy grail or the alchemist´s secret. Therefore, researchers at CIMA, University of Navarra, have long studied it and found that the SLU7 gene expression can be fundamental in the liver biology. Researchers Carmen Berasain and Matías Ávila and their team have found that SLU7 knockdown in human liver cells and mouse liver resulted in profound changes in pre-mRNA splicing and gene expression, leading to impaired glucose and lipid metabolism, refractoriness to key metabolic hormones and reversion to a fetal-like gene expression pattern. In other words, SLU7 can be considered L.´s secret player, explaining how SLU7 moves can be crucial to treat cirrhosis or hepatocarcinoma.

L.´s fame is not new. According to Greek mythology, Zeus decided to punish Promotheus and chain him to a rock with unbreakable adamite chains. There, he received the unconformable visit of a giant eagle that would tear on his liver every day and night. But the surprise was that every day and night the liver grew again. Mr L´s power and legend comes from far. “I love life: Do not betray me! Work on! Do no arrest my song”, said Pablo Neruda… and we second that.

Patricia Sáinz de Robredo

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