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Big belly genes? Five mutations linked to 'central adiposity'

27 January 2014
Appeared in BioNews 739

A study on over 57,000 people has revealed a link between five genes and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), one of the most accurate predictors of obesity-related disease and mortality.

Dr Kira Taylor, of the University of Louisville, and her team used data from 22 databases in the USA, trying to find genetic variants that increased the risk of high waist-to-hip ratio, independent of overall obesity. They investigated over 50,000 variants in 2,100 genes thought to be involved in cardiovascular or metabolic function.

Their analysis identified three new genes associated with increased WHR in both men and women, and discovered two new genes that appear to affect WHR in women only.

WHR is a proxy measure of 'central adiposity' – a term used to describe the accumulation of fat in the belly and abdomen. It is a more efficient predictor of mortality than body mass index. According to the World Health Organisation, a high WHR increases the risk of heart disease, hypertension, insulin resistance, diabetes and, in women, fertility problems.

One of the genes linked to high WHR in women, SHC1, codes for a protein which interacts with a group of other proteins already linked to obesity. SHC1 activates the insulin receptor and affects fat cell growth; previous research found that mice without the SHC1 protein are leaner than those with it.

Dr Taylor said she thought the linking of SHC1 with central adiposity 'holds great opportunity for medicinal chemistry and eventually, genomic medicine. If scientists can find a way to fine-tune the expression of this gene, we could potentially reduce the risk of excessive fat in the mid-section and its consequences'.

Five 'Fat Genes' Shown to Widen Girths
Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News |  23 January 2014
Gene-centric meta-analyses for central adiposity traits in up to 57 412 individuals of European descent confirm known loci and reveal several novel associations
Human Molecular Genetics |  17 December 2013
Scientists ID New Genes Linked to Belly Fat (HealthDay News) |  23 January 2014
UofL epidemiologist uncovers new genes linked to abdominal fat
EurekAlert! (press release) |  22 January 2014
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