Toronto: Scientists have discovered a genethat could be an important cause of obesity and suggest that suppressing the gene could prevent fat accumulation in
people who are overweight.
The gene, which encodes a protein called 14-3-3zeta, is found in every cell of the body. When scientists at the University of British Columbia silenced the gene in mice, it resulted in a 50 per cent
reduction in the amount of a specific kind of unhealthy "white fat", which is associated with obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
The fat reduction occurred despite the mice consuming the same amount of food. Mice that were bred to have higher levels of the 14-3-3zeta protein were noticeably bigger and rounder,
having an average of 22 per cent more white fat when fed a high calorie diet.
Earlier this year, a group of scientists found over 100 regions on the human genome that correlate with obesity, likely through regulating the brain's perception of hunger and the distribution of fat throughout the body.
That study, however, did not identify the gene that encodes 14-3-3zeta, which controls the production of fat cells (known as adipogenesis) and the growth of those cells. The discovery of this direct link between a protein and fat production, points the way to a possible drug therapy, researchers said.
Scientists theorise that by suppressing the gene or blocking the protein, they could prevent fat accumulation in people who are overweight, or are on their way to becoming so. "People gain fat in two ways - through the multiplication of their fat cells, and through the expansion of individual fat cells," said Gareth Lim, a postdoctoral fellow in University of British Columbia'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," Lim said. Lim and James Johnson, a professor of cellular and
physiological sciences, began studying the 14-3-3 family of proteins four years ago as it often shows up in the unhealthy fat tissue of obese people. This study not only identified zeta as the operative protein, but demonstrated a clear cause-and-effect between 14-3-3zeta and fat accumulation.
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications....