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The Genetics Of Obesity, Run Ii

Rodents Lead the Way

The written report of obesity genetics dates dorsum to a greater extent than than one-half a century.  In 1949, researchers at the Jackson Laboratories identified a remarkably obese mouse, which they determined carried a spontaneous mutation inwards an unidentified gene.  They named this the "obese" (ob/ob) mouse.  Over the side past times side few decades, researchers identified several other genetically obese mice amongst spontaneous mutations, including diabetic (db/db) mice, "agouti" (Avy) mice, too "Zucker" (fa/fa) rats.

At the fourth dimension of discovery, no 1 knew where the mutations resided inwards the genome.  All they knew is that the mutations were inwards unmarried genes, too they resulted inwards extreme obesity.  Researchers recognized this every bit a huge chance to acquire something of import most the rule of trunk fatness inwards an unbiased way.  Unbiased because these mutations could travel identified amongst no prior cognition most their function, thus the investigators' pre-existing beliefs most the mechanisms of trunk obese rule could conduct maintain no impact on what they learned.  Many different enquiry groups tried to pivot downwardly the underlying source of dysfunction: only about idea it was elevated insulin too changes inwards adipose tissue metabolism, others idea it was elevated cortisol, too a multifariousness of other hypotheses.



At the same time, several groups were researching a fascinating novel "anti-lipogenic factor" (also "satiety factor") they had identified past times literally fusing together obese too normal rats, allowing their circulation to (very slowly) communicate (1).  Their results suggested the existence of a previously unidentified, powerful circulating factor that regulates nutrient intake too trunk fatness, too they were able to dominion out insulin, glucose, obese acids, cortisol, too a multifariousness of other potential contenders.  Furthermore, their findings suggested that ob/ob mice lack the anti-lipogenic factor, db/db mice lack its receptor, too the factor acts primarily inwards a encephalon portion called the hypothalamus (2).  Yet the identity of the factor remained unknown until 1994.

Realizing that a total agreement of obesity inwards ob/ob mice would quest identifying the mutation, a enquiry squad led past times Dr. Rudolf Leibel prepare out to seat it through a laborious procedure called positional cloning.  In 1994, this led to the cloning too sequencing of the ob cistron (3), which encoded a previously unknown poly peptide of sixteen kilodaltons.  They named it leptin, afterward the Greek give-and-take "leptos", pregnant "thin".  Here is the total abstract of the paper:
The mechanisms that relaxation nutrient intake too unloosen energy expenditure create upwards one's heed who volition travel obese too who volition travel lean. One of the molecules that regulates unloosen energy relaxation inwards the mouse is the obese (ob) gene. Mutation of ob results inwards profound obesity too type II diabetes every bit constituent of a syndrome that resembles morbid obesity inwards humans. The ob cistron production may constituent every bit constituent of a signalling pathway from adipose tissue that acts to regulate the size of the trunk obese depot.
Further piece of job confirmed that leptin is produced primarily past times obese cells too acts inwards the encephalon to constrain nutrient intake too trunk fatness (4).  Remarkably, all of the master copy single-gene mutations that movement rodent obesity ended upwards beingness inwards the leptin signaling pathway.  ob/ob mice lack leptin, db/db mice too fa/fa rats lack the leptin receptor, too Avy mice conduct maintain a mutation that mimics the effects of leptin deficiency inwards the brain.  The obesity, elevated insulin, too alterations inwards obese prison theater cellphone metabolism inwards these models were all downstream consequences of defects inwards the leptin signaling pathway-- via the brain.

Humans Follow

Shortly afterward the cloning of the leptin gene, researchers identified a menage unit of measurement of humans that too lacked leptin constituent (5), providing "the commencement genetic show that leptin is an of import regulator of unloosen energy relaxation inwards humans".  Not solely were they obese, amongst an abnormally large appetite, but treating them amongst leptin normalized their appetite too returned them to a normal weight (6), every bit shown inwards the photograph to the left (6b).  As of 2013, a number of human families amongst obesity due to single-gene mutations conduct maintain been identified.  If nosotros reckon solely those mutations that movement obesity without causing important developmental abnormalities, all of them turned out to travel inwards the leptin signaling pathway-- either inwards leptin, the leptin receptor, or the encephalon circuits that answer to leptin too related signals (7)*.  As was the instance inwards rodents, spontaneous mutations inwards humans pointed to the leptin-brain axis every bit the primary regulator of trunk fatness.

More recently, researchers conduct maintain performed large-scale genetic screens on people who conduct maintain severe or early-onset obesity to run into if only about cases tin travel attributed to variance inwards specific genes.  About four pct of severely obese people conduct maintain a mutation inwards the melanocortin receptor four (MC4R) cistron that causes it to lose constituent (8), too ii of late published papers identified a loss-of constituent variant of the cistron SIM1 inwards only about other subset of early-onset obese subjects (9, 10).  MC4R is a receptor for alpha-MSH**, the production of leptin-responsive POMC neurons, too SIM1 is an of import poly peptide for the evolution too constituent of the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus, a major target of POMC neurons.  In other words, they are both constituent of the same organization inwards the encephalon that regulates trunk fatness inwards response to leptin too other signals.  Both the MC4R too SIM1 variants movement an increment inwards nutrient intake due to a defect inwards satiety (11).  For people amongst these variants, achieving existent leanness is unlikely.  Other studies conduct maintain too uncovered mutations inwards genes associated amongst the encephalon rule of trunk fatness inwards severe early-onset obesity (11b).

So far, I've described rare mutations that Pb to severe obesity.  These mutations solely concern human relationship for a really pocket-size fraction of the obese population.  To sympathize what genes are involved in common obesity, we'll conduct maintain to plow to only about other method: genome-wide association studies (GWAS).  The GWAS method takes payoff of the fact that everyone's genome is a lilliputian fleck different.  By sequencing these areas of divergence betwixt people***, they tin associate them amongst specific traits, for example, obesity.  This allows researchers to "map" sites of especial importance to the trait inwards question, which tells us something most what biological processes are relevant to the trait.  For example, diabetes-linked regions are generally associated amongst genes affecting the pancreas, every bit 1 would expect (12)  though only about obesity genes attain exhibit upwards every bit well****.

The findings of obesity GWAS studies are basically consistent amongst the other show described inwards a higher house (12b).  For many of the identified regions, nosotros don't know which cistron is involved.  For the genes that nosotros conduct maintain identified, most of them are involved inwards encephalon function, especially the leptin-responsive hypothalamus.  Here's a quote from a review newspaper that sums it upwards (13):
...when nosotros aspect at the information gleaned from the past times fifteen years of molecular genetic activity nosotros cannot avoid finally that, every bit much every bit type 2 diabetes is clearly a affliction inwards which pancreatic beta-cell dysfunction is a critical element, obesity is a status inwards which inherent genetic predisposition is dominated past times the brain.
That beingness said, GWAS studies conduct maintain failed to seat the bulk of the genetic differences that concern human relationship for the lxx pct heritability of trunk fatness (less than 3% accounted for).  We conduct maintain plenty information to know what types of biological processes are involved inwards mutual obesity, but nosotros don't know all the details yet.  As the quondam proverb goes, "more enquiry is required"!

What does it Mean?

The genetic information converge powerfully amongst other fields such every bit neurobiology, endocrinology, too physiology, together demonstrating conclusively that:

  1. The encephalon is the principal regulator of trunk fatness.
  2. The encephalon regulates trunk fatness inwards response to internal signals of unloosen energy stores, especially leptin.
  3. Genetic variability inwards trunk fatness is probable predominantly determined past times genetic differences inwards encephalon function, especially the hypothalamus.

In the side past times side post, I'll explicate why genes are non (usually) destiny.


* Those that attain movement deformity too involve encephalon unloosen energy relaxation circuitry (14).

** Also AgRP, which is an inverse agonist at the MC4R too increases nutrient intake.

*** Typically, single-nucleotide polymorphisms.

**** E.g., FTO, the #1 obesity GWAS hit.


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