Scientists part-funded by us at King’s College London have identified a gene that in women is linked to the creation and location of new fat cells and is thought to contribute to a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes.
Published in Nature Genetics, the paper examined the effect of a gene called KLF14. The researchers found that genetic variations that control KLF14 were associated with where in the body excess fat was stored. In women, versions of the gene that result in fat being stored around the hips, rather than the abdomen, were linked to a lower risk of diabetes.
The gene does not have an effect on overall weight but different variations of KLF14 were also related to the development and size of fat cells. Women with variations of the gene linked to the deposit of fat around the abdomen had fewer, larger fat cells which are less efficient. This means that the body’s sensitivity to insulin is decreased and therefore suggests that carriers of this variation of the gene are more at risk of diabetes.
The study, which was an international collaboration with the University of Oxford, MRC Harwell, University of California in Los Angeles, University of Pennsylvania and others, also showed that the effects of these gene variations were specific to females. This variant of the KLF14 gene is thought to be one of the strongest known genetic risk factors for type 2 diabetes in females. Only the version of the gene inherited from an individual’s mother is active – the father’s version is silent. Women who inherited the risk version of the gene from their mother had around a 30 per cent higher risk of diabetes than those without the risk version of the gene.
The findings provide new insight in to a large genetic network involved in the mechanism of diabetes risk. It is hoped that this understanding may lead to better preventative measures and improved health advice in the future
Dr Kerrin Small, lead author of the study from the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology said:
“These findings provide one of the most complete understandings of a piece of genetic data – we have studied the type 2 diabetes associated version of the KLF14 gene to the point that we understand not only where and how it acts in the body but also who it acts in – women who inherit the diabetes associated version of the gene from their mother.