Controlling cholesterol levels is important for heart health, because high levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol increase our chances of heart disease and stroke. But even if we stick to a low cholesterol diet, our cells still produce it. Statins – medicines used to reduce the amount of cholesterol the body produces – work by switching off the first step in the chain reaction that produces cholesterol. They disable a molecular catalyst called HMG-CoA reductase (pictured). The enzyme – 20 million times smaller than the yolk of an egg – is built with four protein sections (subunits). Each ‘pipe’ in this cartoon (blue, turquoise, red and yellow), represents a subunit that twists and folds to create docking points for the molecules (pink and green) that eventually become cholesterol. Molecular models like these shed light on how enzymes work, and help scientists design new medicines.
Written by Caroline Cross
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