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WSU Research Identifies New Gene for Obesity Therapy

Zhihua Jiang
Zhihua Jiang Click image for larger version.

PULLMAN, Wash. — A group of researchers at Washington State University has found evidence that the urocortin 3 (UCN3) gene may provide pharmaceutical companies with a new target for development of drugs to address obesity and its related conditions, such as type 2 diabetes.

In a paper published Wednesday in the inaugural issue of PLoS ONE, a peer-reviewed, open access scientific and medical journal (DOI number:10.1371/journal.pone.0000080, the group, led by Zhihua Jiang, assistant professor of animal sciences, reports the UCN3 gene significantly affects fat accumulation in muscle tissue using cattle as a model.

He concluded that the finding could have an implication in human health, in particular by developing anti-obesity drugs.

“As insulin resistance affiliated with obesity and type 2 diabetes in humans is associated with lipid accumulation in muscles, identification of genes associated with the phenotype would provide a clear target for pharmaceutical intervention and care for the conditions,” Jiang said.

“In addition to its role in integrating the neuroendocrine, autonomic, immune, and behavioral response to stress, UCN3 regulates food intake and energy balance.”

The UCN3 gene is expressed in many tissues as well as in the central nervous system. UCN3 is thought to reduce food intake and delay emptying of the stomach in mice and to aid the body in maintaining homeostasis during periods of stress. How UCN3 functions to maintain a constant state in the body is not completely known, but it involves the release of hormones into the blood after stimulation from the nervous system.

Jiang and colleagues identified 12 genetic mutations in the bovine UCN3 gene and found that the mutations that cause amino acid changes have a significant impact on the fat deposition in muscle.

More than 1.6 billion adults over the age of 15 world-wide are overweight, according to a 2005 World Health Organization projection. At least 400 million are obese. More than 65 percent of adults in the United States are overweight. Thirty-one percent, about 31 million people, are obese. Obesity and overweight are associated with such chronic diseases as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and stroke.

Jiang’s finding stemmed from studies to improve meat taste, texture and flavor in beef cattle. The research was funded by Merial Ltd.

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Media Contacts

Zhihua Jiang, Animal Sciences, (509) 335-8761