The so-called FTO region that “harbors the strongest genetic association with obesity” was identified in the study conducted by scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University Medical School. The paper was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“Obesity has traditionally been seen as the result of an imbalance between the amount of food we eat and how much we exercise, but this view ignores the contribution of genetics to each individual’s metabolism,” said senior author Manolis Kellis, an MIT professor of computer science.
The scientists proved they could manipulate the genes to reverse the signatures of obesity in both human cells and mice. According to Claussnitzer, the results of the gene manipulation were “dramatic.”
“These mice were 50 percent thinner than the control mice, and they did not gain any weight on a high-fat diet. Instead they dissipated more energy, even in their sleep, suggesting a dramatic shift in their global metabolism,” she added.
Now the researchers are hoping to get rid of obesity, a disorder that affects more than 500 million people worldwide and contributes to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disorders and cancer.
“By manipulating this new pathway, we could switch between energy storage and energy dissipation programs at both the cellular and the organismal level, providing new hope for a cure against obesity,” Kellis said.
Earlier studies attempted to link the FTO region with brain circuits responsible for appetite or propensity to exercise. However, the recent results show no connection between brain circuits and FTO.
“Our results indicate that the obesity-associated region acts primarily in adipocyte progenitor cells in a brain-independent way,” Melina Claussnitzer, a visiting professor at CSAIL and teacher of medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, said, as cited by MIT.