Genetic Scientist with Vial
Genetic scientists have discovered a master switch linked to obesity. Image: Flickr / ciat / CC-BY-SA

A team of scientists in London have reported that the gene KLF14 — known to be linked to Type 2 diabetes and cholesterol levels — is in fact a “master switch” gene. KLF14 controls the behavior of other genes found within fat in the body. This is a major breakthrough the search for treatments for diabetes and other obesity related diseases.

Oxford study breaks new ground

The study, published in the British journal Nature Genetics on May 15, was one part of a multi-national collaboration fund known as the MuTHER study and was conducted at King’s College London, University of Oxford.

“This is the first major study that shows how small changes in one master regulator gene can cause a cascade of other metabolic effects in other genes,” said Tim Spector of King’s College London, who led the study.

Obesity on the rise worldwide

The number of obese people in the world has more than doubled since the 1980s and now affects the poorer nations as well as the affluent. Type 2 diabetes, a disease linked to poor diet and lack of exercise, has reached epidemic proportions and is responsible for $147 billion in medical spending in the U.S. alone.

Multi-national volunteers confirm findings

The research team examined more than 20,000 genes in subcutaneous fat biopsies from 800 female twin volunteers in the UK. An association was discovered between the KLF14 gene and the levels of other genes found in fat tissue. This connection was then confirmed by fat biopsy samples from 600 Icelandic subjects.

The KLF14 gene is unusual in that it is inherited from the mother. Although a set of all genes is inherited from both parents, in the case of KLF14 the copy from the father is switched off, making the copy from the mother active in a process known as imprinting.

New treatments for obesity-related diseases

“KLF14 seems to act as a master switch controlling processes that connect changes in the behavior of subcutaneous fat to disturbances in muscle and liver that contribute to diabetes and other conditions,” said Mark McCarthy of Oxford University, who contributed to the study. “We are working hard … to understand these processes and how we can use this information to improve treatment of these conditions.”




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