Researchers have discovered a molecular marker in cheek cells that can predict obesity, potentially allowing for early intervention and a shift towards preventive medical measures.
The tendency to gain weight may be hardwired into the molecular processes of human cells, according to research from Washington State University.
A proof-of-concept study of 22 pairs of twins found that epigenetic signatures in cheek or cheek cells appeared only in obese twins compared to their leaner siblings. With further study, researchers say this discovery could allow a simple cheek swab test to test for obesity biomarkers, leading to early prevention of obesity, which affects 50% of adults in the United States. said.
“Obesity appears to be more complex than simple food intake. Our study shows that there is susceptibility to this disease and therefore altered molecular markers,” said Dr. said Michael Skinner, corresponding author of the study published in the same journal. epigenetics.
Epigenetic characteristics and obesity
The study focused on twins to rule out the role of genetics and instead focused on epigenetics, molecular processes that are independent of humans. DNA But it does affect how genes are expressed. The fact that the epigenetic signature was found in cheek cells but not in fat cells also suggests that obesity traits are likely present throughout the human body.
Skinner added that the systemic nature of this signature suggests that something may have happened early in one of the twins’ lives to cause obesity susceptibility. It’s also possible that it was passed on to one twin and not the other.
For the study, Dr. Skinner collaborated with lead author Glenn Duncan, director of the WSU-based Washington State Twin Registry, to study 22 pairs of identical and dizygotic twins with discordant obesity levels. The twins were identified. One sibling had a BMI of 30, which is higher than the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s standard for obesity, while the other brother had a BMI of 25 or less, which is within the normal range.
The research team analyzed cells from cheek swabs provided by the twins. The cells of my obese twin brother showed similar epigenetic changes in DNA methylation regions (regions where molecules made of methane bind to DNA and regulate gene expression or turn genes on and off). A significant change was observed.
Future research and prevention
Studies need to be conducted on a larger scale to establish reliable biomarker tests for obesity.
This goal could allow people to be identified earlier in life, before they become obese, and could help health care providers create interventions such as lifestyle changes, medications, or both, Duncan said. he said.
“Ultimately, we want to take some preventative measures rather than the usual approach of treatment,” he said. “It’s the simple fact that it’s better to prevent a disease than to try to treat it after you get sick.”
Reference: “Epigenome-wide association study of systemic effects of obesity susceptibility in human twins” Glen E. Duncan, Ally Avery, Millissia Ben Maamar, Eric E. Nilsson, Daniel Beck, Michael K. Skinner, October 23, 2023 , epigenetics.
This research was carried out in collaboration with the John Templeton Foundation. National Institutes of Health.