Scientists have discovered an obesity gene which stimulates weight gain, and these findings might result in new ways of tackling this growing epidemic.
The study, published in the journal Cell Reports, was funded by the National Institutes of Health. It was led by Joan C. Han, researcher at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
Experts aimed to analyze the structure of the gene for brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), and its effects on regulating body weight.
This DNA sequence plays an important role at a neural level, and has been associated with managing appetite and boosting the sensation of fullness
Prior research had shown that there might be a potential link between obesity and variations in this gene, which tend to be more prevalent among Hispanic and black individuals, than among Caucasians. Therefore, study authors wanted to identify the exact DNA changes which elevate the likelihood of being obese.
By carefully investigating brain tissue samples, they were able to detect a segment in the gene whose presence interacted with a protein called hnRNP D0B, and diminished BDNF levels in the hypothalamus, a portion of the brain which controls food intake and hunger.
In order to prove their theory, experts analyzed approximately 31,000 men and women, whose medical data had been collected following other surveys, such as Viva la Familia, HANDLS and PAGE.
The ordinary gene for BDNF was referred to as “T”, while the altered gene which results in lower quantities of BDNF was called “C”.
Subjects who had two copies (alleles) of common genes were compared with those who had one or two gene variations.
Among African-American adults and Hispanic children, it was determined that those having CC or CT genes were more likely to have a body mass index (BMI) surpassing 25, which corresponds to being overweight or obese.
In addition, such people displaying these gene variations were more predisposed to having a higher body fat percentage.
Across several races, it was determined that children whose genetic makeup included CC genes were more likely to have unhealthy BMIs and body fat levels. In comparison, those who had TT or CT combinations had a diminished risk of experiencing such disorders.
Overall, the study seems to suggest that boosting the levels of protein encoded by the brain-derived neurotrophic factor might hold the key for combating obesity,
This modern-day epidemic, which has been linked with type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other chronic disorders, has emerged as a major public health threat in recent decades.
This alarming trend has accelerated as a result of sedentary lifestyles becoming more widespread, and unhealthy, fast-food diets being so easily accessible and convenient.
Therefore, by identifying persons who display BDNF gene variations, more personalized therapeutic strategies could be introduced, to help patients achieve normal body weight.
However, as researchers point out, further studies must be conducted before these promising results are confirmed beyond the shadow of a doubt.
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