Researchers have found a gene that when blocked can keep mice from becoming obese, even if they consume a high-fat diet, new research released on Thursday found.
The gene, dubbed IKKE, acts as the main control center for obesity in the lab animals. When it is successfully blocked, mice remain thin even if they are devouring high-fat foods, said Alan Saltiel, director of the University of Michigan's Life Science Institute.
If further research shows IKKE is tied to obesity in humans, the gene and the protein it makes will be key targets for developing drugs to treat obesity, diabetes and related complications, he added.
“We've studied other genes associated with obesity -- we call them 'obesogenes' -- but this is the first one we've found that, when deleted, stops the animal from gaining weight," said Saltiel, lead author of the paper appearing in the September 4 edition of the journal Cell. "The fact that you can disrupt all the effects of a high-fat diet by deleting this one gene in mice is pretty interesting and surprising," he said.
The gene IKKE produces a protein kinase. Protein kinases are enzymes that effectively "turn on or off" other proteins. It targets proteins which, in turn, control genes that regulate metabolism.