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Gene Inhibits Fat Formation

Sept. 4, 2007 -- A "lean gene" that keeps flies from getting fat works the same way in mammals.

Humans carry the same gene. So boosting lean-gene function might be a future obesity treatment, say researchers Jonathan Graff, MD, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

"From worms to mammals, this gene controls fat formation," Graff said in a news release.

The gene is called Adipose or Adp. Fifty years ago, a Yale researcher discovered a strain of fruit flies that lacked the Adp gene. The flies put on a lot of weight -- which helped them survive the famine-prone region in which they lived.

Graff's team showed that mice genetically engineered to express the Adp gene in fat tissues became skinny. Moreover, they showed that Adp works in a dose-related manner. The more Adp activity there is, the leaner the animal becomes.

"This is good news for potential obesity treatments, because it's like a volume control instead of a light switch. It can be turned up or down, not just on or off," Graff said. "Eventually, of course, the idea is to develop drugs to target this system, but that's in the years to come."

Such drugs will have to face a safety hurdle. Graff and colleagues note that Adp is found throughout the body. Especially high levels are seen in the brain and in the testes.

"These tissues could plausibly be affected and deserve significant scrutiny," the researchers warn.

The findings appear in the September issue of the journal Cell Metabolism.

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