Researchers identify gene linked to obesity in children, adults

A variation in the gene for brain-derived neurotropic factor, or BDNF, might cause less of the appetite-controlling protein to be produced, playing a role in children and adults who develop obesity, a new study revealed.

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

The BDNF protein with roles in the brain and nervous levels, was responsible for stimulating the feeling of fullness. Researchers analysed brain tissue samples and identified an area of the gene where one single change altered BDNF levels in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controlled 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 over 31,000 men and women focusing on the gene in four groups of people who had also enrolled in clinical research studies, including PAGE, HANDLS and Viva La Familia.

The researchers called the most common BDNF gene "T," while they referred to the rare one that produced less of the protein as "C," comparing people with two copies of the common gene with those who had one or two of the rare gene.

Researchers found that higher BMI and body fat percentages were found in both black adults and Hispanic children who had CT or CC combination of genes and a CC genetic combination was also more closely linked to a higher BMI and body fat than CT or TT combinations.

Obesity continued to pose a serious threat for many children and adults in the US and statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that over  one-third of adults were obese and childhood obesity had more than doubled in children within the last 30 years.

The research is published in the journal Cell Reports.