A group of researchers led by a scientist of Indian origin have determined that a specific gene plays a role in the weight-gain response to a high-fat diet.
The finding in an animal study suggests that blocking this gene could one day be a therapeutic strategy to reduce diet-related obesity and associated disorders, such as diabetes and liver damage, in humans.
Researchers found that a diet rich in fat induced production of this gene, called protein kinase C beta (PKC beta), in the fat cells of mice. These mice rapidly gained weight while eating a high-fat diet for 12 weeks.
On the other hand, mice genetically engineered to lack PKC beta gained relatively little weight and showed minimal health effects after eating the same high-fat diet.
"So we now know this gene is induced by a high-fat diet in fat cells, and a deficiency of this gene leads to resistance to fat-induced obesity and related insulin resistance and liver damage," said Kamal Mehta, study co-author and professor of molecular and cellular biochemistry in Ohio State University College of Medicine.
"It could be that the high-fat diet is a signal to the body to store more fat. And when that gene is not there, then the fat storage cannot occur," he said.
Research suggests that rather than storing fat, mice lacking the gene burn fat more rapidly than they would if the PKC beta were present, Mehta said, according to a Ohio release.
The research is available online in Hepatology and is scheduled for publication.