BALTIMORE, Feb. 19 -- U.S. scientists studying how yeast makes cholesterol have identified a protein whose human counterpart controls cholesterol production and metabolism.

The collaborative study was conducted by investigators at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University, Indiana University and the Eli Lilly Co.

"Dap1 controls the activity of a clinically important class of enzymes required for cholesterol synthesis and drug metabolism," said Johns Hopkins Assistant Professor Peter Espenshade. "We're excited because, although we originally identified this protein in yeast, humans not only have the same protein, but it works the same way."

The search for Dap1 began with the hunt for factors that influence the actions of a large family of enzymes called cytochrome P450. Those enzymes control many life-sustaining chemical reactions in humans and other animals.

"Understanding the molecular underpinnings of so-called pharmacogenetic variation will have a big impact on the future of medicine," Espenshade said.

The research appears in the February issue of the journal Cell Metabolism.