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Scientists gain insight into how obesity gene works

12 November 2007
Appeared in BioNews 433

Scientists have moved a step closer to understanding how a gene previously linked to obesity makes people prone to weight gain, according to a study published last week in the journal Science. The discovery may help scientists to develop new treatments to combat the increasing numbers of people who are being diagnosed with obesity each year.

In April, British scientists discovered a link between obesity and a gene known as FTO. They reported that people who carry two copies of a particular version of the FTO gene -an estimated 16 per cent of the population - are, on average, three kilograms heavier than people who do not have the variant, while those who carry just one copy of the gene variant - an estimated 50 per cent of the UK population - are around 1.6kg heavier.

At the time, scientists didn't know why the gene tended to make people overweight, but, thanks to the combined work of scientists from Oxford, Cambridge and Cancer Research UK in London, scientists now have some idea of how the gene works. The researchers found clues that the FTO gene may be involved in switching genes on or off. Furthermore, they also discovered that the gene is active in an area of the brain - the hypothalamus - which is responsible for regulating appetite and fullness.

Professor Stephen O'Rahilly, who led the Cambridge arm of the study, said that the findings of the study provided an important 'first glimpse', but that 'a lot of work is still needed to work out how [the gene's] actions influence body weight.' Nevertheless, he is optimistic that future treatments will be possible: 'As the activity of FTO can be altered by small molecules like metabolites, it is possible, in the future, that FTO could be manipulated therapeutically to help treat obesity,' he said.

Although the discovery provides scientists with a new avenue to explore in the hunt for treatments to combat obesity, further research will be needed to gain a full understanding of the genetic basis of obesity, Professor Frances Ashcroft, a physiologist at Oxford University, told the Guardian. "What we have here [with FTO] is something that is causing obesity in the general population, not a rare mutation in a single gene that causes a dramatic effect on body weight. [Obesity] is a common disease and that means it probably will occur in combination with other genes to make the obesity phenotypes,' she said.

British scientists find obesity gene link
The Daily Telegraph |  8 November 2007
New Link between genetics and obesity discovered
Medical News Today |  9 November 2007
Researchers move closer to understanding obesity gene
The Guardian |  9 November 2007
The Obesity-Associated FTO Gene Encodes a 2-OxoglutarateÐDependent Nucleic Acid Demethylase
Science |  8 November 2007
26 April 2010 - by Dr Charlotte Maden 
The obesity-related gene FTO also plays a role in loss of brain tissue, according to a US study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last week...
22 March 2009 - by Dr Rebecca Robey 
British scientists have found that a common gene variant that predisposes carriers to obesity is also linked to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS has long been known to be associated with obesity but the new study is the first to identify a genetic link between the two...
2 March 2009 - by Dr Charlotte Maden 
New research into the role played by the FTO gene in obesity has been published in the journal Nature, showing that the gene may function in metabolism. The FTO (fat-mass and obesity associated) gene has been linked to obesity in the past, which has provoked much interest...
19 January 2009 - by Adam Fletcher 
A new study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, may explain why certain genetic variations increase a person's risk of obesity. Professor Jane Wardle and team at University College London, UK, have demonstrated associations between particular variants of the FTO gene, and the likelihood of overeating...
16 December 2008 - by Dr Charlotte Maden 
People who carry a specific variant of a gene have a preference to eat more fattening foods, and eat up to 100 more calories per meal, say scientists at the University of Dundee, Scotland. A study investigated the eating habits of 100 children aged four to ten...
17 April 2007 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
UK researchers have discovered that a common gene variant helps explain why some people are more prone to gaining excess weight than others. Adults and children with two copies of a particular version of the FTO gene are, on average, three kilograms heavier than people who...
17 April 2006 - by BioNews 
Researchers based in the US have identified a genetic variation that substantially increases a person's risk of obesity. The research team, based at the Boston University Medical School in Massachusetts, found that small genetic changes in a region of DNA near a gene called INSIG2, can increase the likelihood of...
18 July 2005 - by BioNews 
Scientists at Imperial College London have announced that they have discovered a gene linked to type 2 diabetes and obesity. Defective versions of the gene ENPP1 disrupt the way the body stores energy and handles sugar by blocking the hormone insulin. Philippe Froguel and his team found that children with...
31 January 2005 - by BioNews 
The European Commission has launched a new 14.5 million euro project to find out how diet and genetic factors combine to cause obesity. The DiOGenes project, to be carried out by 30 organisations from 15 countries, will involve collecting DNA from over 13,000 Europeans. It will apparently be 'the most...
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