After analyzing a gene long-thought to fuel weight gain, researchers found how obesity gene really works. The team explained that changes brought to the gene may force the brain to release less of a protein responsible for appetite control in both children and adults.
The protein is called brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) and may hold the key to future treatments to tackle obesity. Researchers now think that a drug that may supplement numbers of the BDNF protein in patients’ brain may help cure or at least rein in obesity.
Scientists also found that the most exposed ethnic groups to the gene modification are blacks and Hispanics. And using the drug on these people may help them with their weight control and prevent appetite-related obesity.
Study investigators explained that the BDNF protein plays a crucial role in adjusting satiety cues and promoting the feeling of fullness. Scientists first analyzed the protein in human brain tissue. They learned that there is an area in the brain in which minor changes can trigger lower BDNF levels in the hypothalamus.
Dr. Jack Yanovski, co-author of the study, explained that past studies had shown that the BDNF gene may lead to weight gain and obesity, but scientists were unable to learn how the gene really worked. It is now the first time that researchers found how obesity gene really works.
Yanovski added that the recent study reveals how a minor variation in the obesity gene can alter BDNF protein levels in the brain and promote obesity. Researchers now hope that the gene may help medical research find more personalized treatments to obesity.
In their study, researchers looked at how the gene works in four different types of people. They sifted through data on more than 30,000 obese patients that were enrolled in other research studies. Study authors named the healthy BDNF gene ‘T’ and the altered BDNF gene ‘C.’ Next, they compared patients that had the T gene with people who had one or two copies of the C gene.
In African Americans and Latinos, the team found that CT and CC combinations were associated with a higher risk of obesity and weight gain in both adults and children. In other ethnic groups, only the CC combination was tied to a higher risk of obesity and weight problems.
“Lower BDNF levels may contribute to obesity in people with the C allele,”
noted Dr. Joan Han.
Nevertheless Dr. Han also said that more studies needed to be conducted before drawing final conclusions and trying to design a drug that can stabilize BDNF levels.
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