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Researchers find gene linked to obesity in children, adults

Boosting the protein may help treat obesity, but researchers said more work must be done before that is a possibility.
By Stephen Feller   |   Oct. 29, 2015 at 4:56 PM

BETHESDA, Md., Oct. 29 (UPI) -- A variation in the gene for brain-derived neurotropic factor, or BDNF, may cause less of the appetite-controlling protein to be produced, playing a role in children and adults who develop obesity, according to a new study.

Researchers think boosting the drug in people with the variation, found more often in black and Hispanic people than in white people, may help correct obesity-related issues connected to appetite.

The BDNF protein has roles in the brain and nervous levels, and is responsible for stimulating the feeling of fullness. Researchers were able to analyze brain tissue samples and identify an area of the gene where one single change altered BDNF levels in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls eating and body weight.

"The BDNF gene has previously been linked to obesity, and scientists have been working for several years to understand how changes in this particular gene may predispose people to obesity," said Dr. Jack Yanovski, an investigator at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, in a press release. "This study explains how a single genetic change in BDNF influences obesity and may affect BDNF protein levels. Finding people with specific causes of obesity may allow us to evaluate effective, more-personalized treatments."

Researchers studied the gene in four groups of people -- more than 31,000 men and women -- enrolled in several other clinical research studies. To decipher between genes, researchers referred to the common gene for BDNF as "T" and the rare gene that produces less BDNF as "C," comparing people with two copies of the common gene with those who have one or two of the rare gene.

In black adults and Hispanic children, researchers found higher BMI and body fat percentages were associated with people who had CT or CC combinations of genes. In a group of healthy children of many races, the researchers found a CC genetic combination was associated with higher BMI and body fat than the CT or TT combinations.

"Lower BDNF levels may contribute to obesity in people with the C allele," said Dr. Joan Han, a researcher at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. "If these findings are supported by additional studies, boosting BDNF levels may prove beneficial."

The study is published in the journal Cell Reports.

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