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Scientists uncover 'key gene' linked to regulation of body fat

23 May 2011
Appeared in BioNews 608

Scientists say they have found a 'master regulator' gene, KLF14, which controls how active some fat metabolism genes are in your fat cells.

The researchers identified a SNP called rs4731702 near to the KLF14 gene that alters not only KLF14 activity, but also how it regulates the activity of other genes in fat cells.

Professor Mark McCarthy from the University of Oxford, who helped lead the study, said: 'KLF14 seems to act as a master switch controlling processes that connect changes in the behaviour of subcutaneous fat to disturbances in muscle and liver that contribute to diabetes and other conditions'.

The scientists collected blood and tissue samples from 856 female twins of European descent, who were participating in the Multiple Tissue Human Expression Resource (MuTHER) study. The researchers were able to look at which genes were active in the fat cells of 776 of these women and how active each of these genes was.

The scientists found a number of genes regulated by KLF14, which included ones linked with influencing BMI (body mass index), cholesterol and blood glucose levels. They were able to confirm their results by looking at biopsies of fat tissue taken from Icelandic women.

The KLF14 gene is unusual in that its activity is inherited only from the mother as the copy of KLF14 from the father is switched off - a process known as imprinting. Understanding how KLF14 regulates these genes may improve future treatment options for obesity and diabetes. Professor McCarthy said: 'We are working hard right now to understand these processes and how we can use this information to improve treatment of these conditions'.

The study itself did not look at the activity of these genes in obese people. Therefore further studies will be needed to understand how these genes, and their regulation by KLF14, affect the risk of obesity and obesity related diseases.

The study was carried out by researchers from King's College London, the University of Oxford, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the University of Geneva. The findings were published in Nature Genetics.

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