Magazine article Science News

Gene Ups Obesity, Accelerates Diabetes

Magazine article Science News

Gene Ups Obesity, Accelerates Diabetes

Article excerpt

The Pima Indians of Arizona suffer from some of the highest rates of obesity and diabetes in the world: Roughly half of all Pimas will develop diabetes by age 40. But the reason for their susceptibility remains a mystery.

Now, the discovery of a genetic defect in a cellular protein thought to help the body burn fat may offer the first clues to the Pimas' health problems.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore found that a mutated form of a protein that ordinarily converts fat into body heat appears to promote obesity and accelerate adult-onset diabetes.

"If we could identify people with this gene, we could intervene with diet and exercise," says study leader Alan R. Shuldiner. "And eventually we may be able to circumvent the [protein]."

The protein in question is the beta-3-adrenergic receptor. Rodent studies have shown that this receptor receives signals from the sympathetic nervous system that help to set the animals' metabolic rate. The signals encourage so-called brown fat to generate heat. Researchers believe the same process occurs in humans, but confirmation of this hypothesis remains difficult because people carry, in their trunks and abdomens, only small amounts of brown fat.

Because brown fat appears to play a role in metabolism, Shuldiner's group examined the Pimas for mutations in the DNA that encodes this protein. As the researchers report in the Aug. 10 New England Journal of Medicine, roughly half of all Pimas carried the mutated form of the receptor. …

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