Research Links Two Genes To Obesity And Health Disorders

Family DNA may influence development of Metabolic Syndrome

Two genes may be linked to obesity and health disorders according to new research by the TOPS Obesity and Metabolic Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin. The study of obese individuals from four generations of families shows that hereditary DNA may influence development of Metabolic Syndrome, a cluster of conditions effecting one in five Americans, which dramatically increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes. So far, the TOPS families' DNA samples have made it possible for researchers to query almost one million variations in genes that are associated with whether or not someone develops the Metabolic Syndrome and how the disease surfaces in different people.

Soon to be published in Obesity, the official journal of The Obesity Society, the report reveals evidence of two new genes that significantly impact weight gain. One gene affects the growth and development of newborn infants, as well as regulation of glucose/insulin response, lipid profiles, and body weight in adults. The other gene affects pro-inflammatory pathways, which are precursors of traits of Metabolic Syndrome.

"Our genome-wide survey could lead to the creation of early diagnostic tools for detecting risks for developing obesity, as well as the discovery of drugs targeted specifically to these genes," said Yi (Sherry) Zhang, Ph.D., instructor, Department of Medicine, Human & Molecular Genetics Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin. "This is the first published work of our genome-wide survey, and we expect a series of reports will soon follow to address other aspects of this complex disease," she added.

Zhang and her colleagues from the TOPS Obesity Center have been working to determine the full picture of the genetic makeup that encourages development of Metabolic Syndrome, including body composition, insulin resistance, and circulating blood levels of the hormone leptin, which is exclusively produced by fatty tissue.

"We've all heard such common expressions as, 'You have your mom's eyes,' or 'I developed high blood pressure in my '40s, just like my grandfather," notes Barbara Cady, TOPS President. "When we discuss 'inheritance' like this, we're relating to a question that scientists have been striving to answer for decades: how does our genetic makeup determine our traits? Knowing which genes are detrimental to our health may help researchers develop a strategic plan to treat or even prevent the symptoms that are caused by these genes."

This research is the latest in a series of papers based on the TOPS Obesity and Metabolic Research samples housed at the Medical College of Wisconsin as part of an ongoing partnership.