Genetic discoveries link obesity to the brain

The studies find that excess weight is associated with genes that affect appetite and energy expenditure. Researchers say this work points to potential drug targets.

By Victoria Stagg Elliott — Posted Jan. 6, 2009

Print  |   Email  |   Respond  |   Reprints  |   Like Facebook  |   Share Twitter  |   Tweet Linkedin

Obesity may have more to do with how the brain eoperates than how food is digested, according to a pair of papers published in the January issue of Nature Genetics (link).

Multinational teams led by deCODE genetics in Reykjavik, Iceland, and the U.S. Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits consortium analyzed the genomes of more than 120,000 people. The paper from deCODE researchers identified variants at seven loci. The one from the consortium found six, and the effect of the genes differed by age.

"In younger children, ages 5-10, we found that with three of the genes the children were already heavier at that young age, and, with the other three genes, we saw that there was no effect on children," said Gonçalo Abecasis, DPhil, one of the leaders of the consortium and associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor. "For those [genes] we only saw an effect in much older individuals. This points to different mechanisms influencing your weight at different ages."

Most of these genes are activated in the brain, with several working in the hypothalamus. Investigators say this is important to provide direction for research than could lead to drug therapies to treat obesity.

"This suggests that, as we work to develop better means of combating obesity, including using these discoveries as the first step in developing new drugs, we need to focus on the regulation of appetite at least as much as on the metabolic factors of how the body uses and stores energy," said Dr. Kári Stefánsson, deCODE's CEO.

But those behind this work also expressed caution because, for most people, each gene plays only a small role in weight, and there are many more to be discovered. For example, researchers estimate that those carrying the most genes with an increased obesity risk would tend to be 10 pounds heavier than those who have the fewest.

Back to top



Read story

Confronting bias against obese patients

Medical educators are starting to raise awareness about how weight-related stigma can impair patient-physician communication and the treatment of obesity. Read story

Read story


American Medical News is ceasing publication after 55 years of serving physicians by keeping them informed of their rapidly changing profession. Read story

Read story

Policing medical practice employees after work

Doctors can try to regulate staff actions outside the office, but they must watch what they try to stamp out and how they do it. Read story

Read story

Diabetes prevention: Set on a course for lifestyle change

The YMCA's evidence-based program is helping prediabetic patients eat right, get active and lose weight. Read story

Read story

Medicaid's muddled preventive care picture

The health system reform law promises no-cost coverage of a lengthy list of screenings and other prevention services, but some beneficiaries still might miss out. Read story

Read story

How to get tax breaks for your medical practice

Federal, state and local governments offer doctors incentives because practices are recognized as economic engines. But physicians must know how and where to find them. Read story

Read story

Advance pay ACOs: A down payment on Medicare's future

Accountable care organizations that pay doctors up-front bring practice improvements, but it's unclear yet if program actuaries will see a return on investment. Read story

Read story

Physician liability: Your team, your legal risk

When health care team members drop the ball, it's often doctors who end up in court. How can physicians improve such care and avoid risks? Read story

  • Stay informed
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • RSS
  • LinkedIn