Philadelphia (July 24, 2007) -- Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center have identified a genetically-transmitted metabolic defect that can lead to obesity in some individuals. The defect involves decreased production of liver enzymes needed to burn fat and may help to explain why some people become obese while others remain thin.
The global obesity epidemic is thought to be caused in part by the increased availability and intake of high calorie foods rich in fat and carbohydrates. These foods promote weight gain in humans and other animals, leading to a diet-induced obesity. The propensity to gain weight and become obese when consuming a high-fat diet is at least partially controlled by genes.
Results of this study help explain the interaction between genes and diet that underlies diet-induced obesity, comments senior author Mark Friedman. They also point to a way to identify individuals at risk for dietary obesity, perhaps even during childhood before the development of unhealthy eating habits.
The current study, published in the August issue of Metabolism, demonstrates that genetic susceptibility to diet-induced obesity is due to a reduced capacity to burn fat.
Fat is one of the fuels that the bodys cells burn to provide energy. This process, known as fat oxidation, takes place inside mitochondria, the cells power plants for generating energy.
If the ability to oxidize fat is impaired, the bodys capacity to make energy is reduced. This leads to increased hunger and overeating, as the body tries to increase the amount of energy available to meet its needs.
When the diet is low in fat, a reduced ability to burn fat has relatively little impact on energy production. However, if fat oxidation is impaired and the diet is high in fat, a greater proportion of calories cannot be used and food intake increases to cover the energy deficit. Because fat fuels are stored in fat tissue when the
Contact: Leslie Stein
Monell Chemical Senses Center