Gene Discovery May Tell Why Some Gain Weight and Others Don’t on High-Fat Diets

Chances are that you know somebody who can pack away the highest-fat foods-marbled steak, cheese, butter, and ice cream-and never gain weight. If you’ve always shrugged it off and said, “It must be genetic,” it turns out that you may be right.

Ohio State University researchers have found a gene that they say plays a large role in making the body gain weight in response to a high-fat diet. Production of the gene, called protein kinase C beta (PKC beta), can be “induced” in fat cells by a high-fat diet, spurring weight gain. (An induced gene is activated by some external factor into performing a certain function.)

Working with laboratory mice, the scientists found that once a 12-week diet high in fat activated the PKC beta gene, the mice rapidly gained weight. However, in mice that had been bred to lack the gene, the same high-fat diet produced little weight gain.

The Ohio State researchers theorize that a high-fat diet signals the PKC beta gene to make the body store more fat, possibly a survival strategy designed to take full advantage of occasions when animals (or humans) were able to hunt or find high-fat foods. 

If researchers can find a way to block the gene from activating in humans, they could prevent the fat-induced obesity that often leads to insulin resistance. It would be yet another treatment that could delay or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

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