Discovery of ‘lean gene’ may lead to new diabetes treatments

 Discovery-of-lean-gene-may-lead-to-new-diabetes-treatments. EDINBURGH, Scotland,While researching genes linked to obesity, researchers in England found a particular gene produces a protein that improves sensitivity to insulin in mice.

Researchers say the protein produced by a “lean gene” lessened diabetes severity in obese mice. Photo by Bochkarev Photography/Shutterstock

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Ljubljana found activating a protein found in fat cells lessened the symptoms of diabetes in mice who had been bred to be overweight.

The protein, thiosulfate sulfurtransferase, or TST, produced by a gene of the same name, detoxifies harmful waste products that accumulate in fat cells. TST was discovered about 80 years ago and naturally protects the body from cyanide, and thiosulphate is used as an antidote for people with cyanide poisoning.

The researchers were looking for genes connected to how the body processes food, hoping to find a genetic explanation for why some people stay lean, while others eat the same diet and and pack on the pounds.

Professor Simon Horvat, of the University of Ljubljana and The National Institute of Chemistry, Slovenia, said: “For the last two decades, the field of obesity genetics has been successful in identifying genes linked to rare inherited types of obesity,” Dr. Simon Horvat, a professor at the University of Ljubljana, said in a press release. “These genes are mostly associated with the brain and have effects on appetite and energy balance. By focusing on obesity resistance rather than susceptibility, we have identified a more common genetic trait linked to leanness. Our findings highlight the importance of the fat tissue in peripheral control of body weight and metabolism.”

For the study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers studied mice bred to either be very lean or very overweight over many generations, finding smaller mice had high levels of TST.

Researchers then used a drug to activate TST in obese mice with diabetes. While it did not affect weight loss, it lessened diabetes severity in the mice.

Researchers bred another group of mice to have high levels of TST in fat cells, and found these mice did not gain weight or develop diabetes when fed a high-calorie diet.

“Gaining this unique insight into the genes of healthy leanness could lead to a completely new approach to treating diabetes associated with obesity,” said Nik Morton, a professor at the University of Edinburgh’s British Heart Foundation Center for Cardiovascular Sciences.

By Stephen Feller