Washington: Researchers have found that enzymes linked to diabetes and obesity appear to play key roles in arthritis and leukemia, potentially opening up new avenues for treating these diverse diseases.

"We had never thought about treating rheumatoid arthritis or leukemia by targeting enzymes that produce fatty acids, but this work supports that line of thinking," said first author Irfan Lodhi, assistant professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The same enzymes involved in turning carbohydrates into the building blocks of fats also influence the health of specialised white blood cells called neutrophils that act as first line of defence when infection strikes.

Neutrophils are also a hallmark of inflammation, which is a key component of rheumatoid arthritis, the findings showed.

Abnormally high levels of neutrophils also are common in patients with leukemia.

"The link between these enzymes and neutrophils was a big surprise," Lodhi pointed out.

In the study, mice that could not make enzymes needed to produce a certain type of fat developed extremely low white blood cell counts, with very few neutrophils.

Without this fat, called an ether lipid, neutrophils died.

That discovery could lead to the targeting of ether lipids as a way to reduce the number of neutrophils in inflammatory diseases and leukemias.

The study was published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

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