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Gene Variation Identified in Adults, Children can lead to Obesity, Researchers Found

Update Date: Oct 30, 2015 11:47 AM EDT

Researchers have identified a gene variation that might explain why certain children and adults are more prone to obesity.

For this study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the researchers examined the gene responsible for brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) in more than 31,000 participants, who were involved in other clinical research studies. The BDNF protein is responsible for regulating appetite. At high, normal levels, the protein can stimulate the feeling of being full.

"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," Dr. Jack Yanovski, an investigator at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, explained in the 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."

The team was able to analyze brain tissue samples that helped them identified a variation on a specific area of the gene that directly affected BDNF levels in the hypothalamus, which affects eating and body weight.

The researchers focused on two forms of the gene. The "T" version was the common one that produced normal levels of BDNF, whereas the "C" version was the variation that caused the gene to produced less BDNF. The researchers then compared people based on whether or not they had the CC, CT or TT combination.

The researchers found that in black adults and Hispanic children, specifically, the CT or CC combinations were linked to higher body mass index (BMI), which is a measurement of obesity, and higher body fat percentages. When the team examined a group of healthy children from all racial backgrounds, the CC genetic combination was tied to higher BMI and body fat.

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

If BDNF protein levels can be controlled, the obesity epidemic could be better managed. Obesity is a serious disease that can lead to health issues such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and more.

The study was published in the journal, Cell Reports.

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