Gene Variants Increase Obesity Risk Sixfold

Obese man | Image by StockerThings/Getty Images

Researchers have made a landmark discovery in understanding how genes might influence a person’s propensity to gain weight, potentially impacting future obesity treatments.

The results of a new study looking at the genetic determinants of rapid weight gain were published Thursday in the journal Nature Genetics. The study leveraged genetic and health data from 587,027 people in the UK, Mexico, and Pakistan.

The study by scientists from the Medical Research Council (MRC) at the University of Cambridge identified a potential biological pathway for adult-onset obesity: rare variants occurring in two genes called BSN and APBA1.

Previous research identified several gene variants associated with weight gain among children, some of which were believed to overlap with those affecting adults. However, the gene variants identified in the new study appear only to impact adults and in a much more significant way than those previously studied — increasing their obesity risk sixfold. No significant variance between individuals of European and non-European ancestry was seen in the study’s results.

“We have identified two genes with variants that have the most profound impact on obesity risk at a population level we’ve ever seen,” said Giles Yeo, one of the study’s authors and a professor at the MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit, in a press release.

For instance, roughly 1 in 6,500 adults had genetic variants in BSN, and the researchers found this correlated to a higher BMI as well as a heightened risk of diabetes and fatty liver disease. A 49% prevalence of obesity and an 11% prevalence of severe obesity were recorded among carriers of this variant.

While more research is needed, Yeo suggested that the higher risk of obesity among carriers of these gene variants could be explained by the effect of age-related neurodegeneration on appetite control, per Bloomberg.

As covered by The Dallas Express, both adult and childhood obesity present significant public health concerns worldwide. Over 1 billion people are now considered to be obese, which considerably increases a person’s risk for an array of diseases ranging from type 2 diabetes to dementia. Although weight-loss drugs have been on the market for a few years and produced considerable results, their affordability, as well as effectiveness and long-term safety, have been questioned.

Co-author John Perry, an MRC investigator at the University of Cambridge, said the new study could reveal a better “understanding of the biological basis of disease” and help identify “a new biological mechanism regulating appetite control.”

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