Obesity Genetics : Functional Aspects of Four Genetic Loci Associated with Obesity and Body Mass

Abstract: Obesity is a complex disorder which has reached epidemic proportions in many parts of the world. Twin studies have demonstrated a high heritability for obesity. The subsequent appli-cation of genome wide association studies (GWAS) in the last decade have identified at least 32 genetic loci associated with body mass and obesity. Despite these great advances, these loci are almost exclusively completely naïve in a functional context. Genetic variations within the gene encoding the fat mass and obesity associated gene (FTO) are the strongest and most consistently observed genetic variants associated with obesity and body mass throughout various studied populations from all parts of the world. The identification of association of FTO with obesity has spurred immense interest in the function of the FTO protein and the functional consequences of its variants. However, the implications of genetic variants at other genetic loci on protein molecular function and body mass development remain undetermined. This thesis aims to examine more closely four of the genetic loci associated with obesity; in proximity of, or associated with: FTO, TMEM18, MAP2K5 and STK33, in two cohorts of children of European descent: a case-control of clinically obese children and normal weight controls from the Stockholm area; and a cross sectional cohort of Greek children. These smaller cohorts allow for studies of more specific effects of genetic variants as individuals in these cohorts can be more carefully studied. TMEM18 gene expression was also studied in the rat-brain where a positive correlation was observed between the body weight of the animal and TMEM18 expression. We also employed next generation sequencing to more carefully study obesity-associated genetic loci related to FTO and TMEM18. We utilized a novel strategy in this project to study genetic variation in the entire FTO- and TMEM18 genes, as well as in the GWAS-identified BMI-associated loci located downstream from TMEM18. This analysis was performed on a case-control cohort of Swedish children (n = ~1000). Through this analysis, we were able to observe genetic variants within intron 1 of the FTO gene to be the main genetic variants asso-ciated with obesity at this locus. We also observed, for the first time, obesity-associated genetic variants within the gene encoding TMEM18. To analyze the potential functional context of FTO we used an in silico approach, utilizing public information databases on mRNA co-expression and protein-protein interaction. Based on our findings, we speculate on a wider functional role of FTO in extracellular ligand-induced neuronal plasticity, possibly via interaction or modulation of the BDNF/NTRK2 signaling pathway.