Obesity has been linked to increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer. Scientists have now discovered a gene that plays an important role in causing obesity. The study findings revealed that the gene encodes a protein responsible for production and growth of fat cells. This discovery could point the way to a possible drug therapy for obesity.
Researcher Gareth Lim from University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, said, "People gain fat in two ways - through the multiplication of their fat cells, and through the expansion of individual fat cells. This protein affects both the number of cells and how big they are, by playing a role in the growth cycle of these cells."
The gene, which encodes the protein 14-3-3zeta, is found in every cell of our body. When scientists silenced the gene in mice, it resulted in a 50% reduction in the amount of a specific kind of unhealthy 'white fat', the kind associated with obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
James Johnson, professor of cellular and physiological sciences at University of British Columbia, said, "Until now, we did not know how this gene affected obesity." The fat reduction in the rodents occurred despite the mice consuming the same amount of food. Mice that were bred to have higher levels of the 14-3-3zeta protein were noticeably bigger and rounder, having an average of 22% more white fat when fed a high calorie diet.
Researchers believe that by suppressing the gene or blocking the protein, they could prevent fat accumulation in people who are overweight, or are on their way to becoming so.
The study findings appeared in Nature Communications.