A new Joslin Diabetes Center-led study has further illuminated the role of genes in regulating body weight and fat distribution. Because obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, identifying genes that affect this condition holds promise for the detection of individuals at risk, as well as for potential prevention and treatment methods. The study was presented on June 25 at the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) 67th Annual Scientific Sessions in Chicago.

This study is a continuation of prior research (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2006) led by C. Ronald Kahn, head of the Joslin section on obesity and hormone action, which observed differences between fat cells from different parts of the body in the expression of 10 genes involved in cell growth and development. Fat cells from different parts of the body are believed to have different functions and metabolism. Three of these genes (T-box 15, Glypican 4, Hox A5) showed changes in expression that correlated with body weight and waist:hip ratio.

Genes “express” themselves by translating encoded information into proteins, enabling visible characteristics, such as weight, to manifest. Only a fraction of the genes located on the genome are expressed in a given cell type. “We were interested in exploring the genetic characteristics that might be responsible for differences in body weight and distribution,” said Alessandro Doria, investigator in the section on genetics and epidemiology at Joslin Diabetes Center, who led the study.