A gene previously linked to weight gain in children could also impact insulin production and blood sugar levels.
Imperial College London scientists looked to build on previous research which identified several impactful genes in the development of obesity. One of these, neuronatin (Nnat), has been found to affect how pancreatic cells process insulin, the hormone needed to regulate blood sugar levels.
The researchers believe the findings could be integral to further understanding rare forms of diabetes that involve the production of a mutated form of insulin that is not productive.
In the study, mice were modified to have their Nnat gene turned off so researchers could see what happened when they were fed glucose.
The study team discovered that the loss of Nnat did not affect how much the mice ate, but they the animals were unable to produce enough insulin needed to restore their blood sugar to healthy levels.
Lead author Professor Dominic Withers, clinical chair in diabetes and endocrinology at Imperial and lead author, said: “This gene appears to be involved in the efficient processing of a signal peptide for insulin – so that’s the reason why cells don’t secret and produce enough of the hormone.
“We’ve studied these animals in a lot of detail and the predominant effects are upon insulin secretion and the handling of glucose as opposed to the regulation of feeding and bodyweight.”
First author on the paper Dr Steve Millership added that the findings could have implications for understanding weight gain in children.
“These findings also highlight the potential importance of ‘imprinted genes’, where the activity of a gene originates solely from one parent – with the paternal form of Nnat strongly expressed,” said Dr Millership.
“They may explain that the way in which this imprinted gene affects metabolism may give insights into the specific contribution of a mother’s or father’s genes to metabolic disease in their children.”
The findings could also be significant because better understanding Nnat and the way in which the body produces insulin could improve future diabetes treatments.
The results have been published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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