Obesity Gene? Now You Find Something to Blame

Obesity not only affects the self image but also is harmful to health—it increases risks of diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer. However, losing weight is not an easy task. In order to lose weight you just drink water, but there are always some guys around you who are never overweight even they eat much more than you. Recently, scientists at the University of British Columbia have discovered an obesity gene that could be an important cause of obesity.

The researchers found that the gene, which encodes a protein called 14-3-3zeta, was found in every cell of the body. They silenced this gene in mice, resulting in a 50% reduction of white fat (food intake unchanged). Body fat can be divided into brown fat and white fat, and white fat is responsible for storing heat while brown fat burning calories. White fat is not conducive to weight loss, but also associated with obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

They found that mice with higher levels of 14-3-3zeta protein were significantly more obese, and their white fat is 22% higher than those fed with a high calorie diet. The study, published on Nature Communications, shows a direct link between 14-3-3zeta protein and fat production, opening up new avenues for treating obesity. The researchers noted that by suppression of this gene or blocking this protein, they could prevent fat accumulation and help individuals from being overweight.

Earlier this year, a study has revealed more than one hundred of the human genome regions associated with obesity, like the genome regulating the brain’s perception of hunger and the body fat distribution. But it has not identified the 14-3-3zeta’s encoding gene, which controls the production and growth of fat cells.

“People gain fat in two ways—through the multiplication of their fat cells, and through the expansion of individual fat cells,”said Dr. Gareth Lim, a postdoctoral fellow in UBC’s Life Sciences Institute. “ This protein affects both the number of cells and how big they are, by playing a role in the growth cycle of these cells.”

Since the 14-3-3 family of proteins often appears in white fat tissue in obese patients, Lim and James Johnson, a professor of cellular and physiological sciences, decided to launch a study of these proteins four years ago. They not only found a key 14-3-3zeta protein, but also clarified a clear cause-and-effect between 14-3-3zeta and fat accumulation.

“Until now, we didn’t know how this gene affected obesity,” Johnson said. “This study shows how fundamental research can address major health problems and open up new avenues for drug discovery.”

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