Scientists have identified 93 genes in fat cells that could have a significant role in the development of obesity, type 2 diabetes and several more conditions.
The discovery could eventually lead to better treatments for disorders such as diabetes, while researchers believe some of the genes could even be targeted as a potential cure.
In the study, conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, US, the activity of genes was examined in 770 Finnish men.
Because their health histories were precisely recorded, the study team were able to explore how gene variations naturally occur in subcutaneous fat (directly under the skin).
They found that strands of DNA often clump together inside fat cells in three-dimensional structures, and can affect other genes, whether they are nearby or far away.
This, the researchers say, could have big implications for future research, particularly into type 2 diabetes.
“There are a lot of regions in our genomes that are associated with increased risk for, let’s say, type 2 diabetes. But we don’t always understand what’s happening in these regions,” said lead author Mete Civelek, PhD.
“Type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease and obesity are multifactorial and complex diseases. Genetic factors do not work in isolation – they work in a holistic way, so I think that these kinds of studies are key to understanding what’s happening in human populations.
“We’re saying that it may be the gene that we thought was causing a phenomenon is not. There may actually be another gene at work that is a little bit further away.”
Civelek and colleagues believe the 93 genes identified could help scientists better understand how normal gene variations can affect patients’ health and risk for disease.
The team are now examining a so-called “master switch” that could regulate activity of several genes involved with the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes risk.
The findings appear online in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

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