The research – reported at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2012 – reveals animal data that for the first time shows consumption of tomatoes genetically engineered to produce a small peptide that mimics the action of HDL cholesterol could reduce plaque build-ups in the blood vessels.
Led by Dr Alan Fogelman from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), USA, the mouse study finds that consumption of freeze-dried, ground tomatoes resulted in reductions in inflammation and lower levels of plaque build-up in arteries (atherosclerosis).
"We have found a new and practical way to make a peptide that acts like the main protein in good cholesterol, but is many times more effective and can be delivered by eating the plant," said Fogelman.
The UCLA team genetically engineered tomatoes to produce 6F – a small peptide that mimics the action of ApoA-1, which is the main protein of high density lipoprotein (HDL) or ‘good’ cholesterol.
Fogelman and his team fed the tomatoes to mice that lack the ability to remove ‘bad’ low density lipoprotein (LDL) or cholesterol from their blood, and therefore develop inflammation and atherosclerosis when consuming a high-fat diet.
The team found that when the mice consumed the tomatoes as 2.2% of a Western-style high-fat those given the 6F modified tomatoes had significantly lower blood levels of inflammation and significantly higher levels of ‘good’ cholesterol.
Consumption of the GM tomatoes also resulted in higher activity of an anti-oxidant enzyme associated with good cholesterol and related to a lower risk of heart disease (known as paraoxonase), and decreased levels of a tumour premotor that accelerates plaque build-up (lysophosphatidic acid).
Overall the team said consumption of the 6F tomatoes resulted in less atherosclerotic plaques.
"To our knowledge this is the first example of a drug with these properties that has been produced in an edible plant and is biologically active when fed without any isolation or purification," said Fogelman.