Gene That Increases Likelihood of Type 2 Diabetes also Linked to Childhood Obesity

December 8, 2009

A gene that has been previously linked to Type 2 diabetes in adults may also increase a child's risk for being overweight, researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia have found.

Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) have found that a gene linked to Type 2 diabetes in adults also increases the risk of being overweight during childhood, a significant factor that influences one's risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.

Study leader Struan FA Grant, PhD, a researcher and associate director of the Center for Applied Genomics at CHOP, and his team of researchers found that the gene HHEX-IDE increases an individual's likelihood of being obese during childhood; HHEX-IDE is also a genetic contributor to the risk for Type 2 diabetes.

"It has been a bit of a mystery to scientists how or even if these adult diabetes genes function during childhood," said Grant. "This finding suggests that there may be genetic activity during childhood that lays the foundation for the later development of type 2 diabetes."

Though the findings are significant, the researchers caution that the HHEX-IDE gene "accounts for only a small proportion of the genetic contribution to the risk of Type 2 diabetes, so many other gene variants remain to be discovered."

According to Grant, regardless of the prevalence of HHEX-IDE as a genetic contributor to risk for Type 2 diabetes, the study's findings "may represent an important underpinning of the disease."

"Previously we thought that this gene affects insulin production during adulthood, but we now see that it may play an early role in influencing insulin resistance through its impact on body size during childhood," said Grant. "One implication is that if we can develop medicines to target specific biological pathways in childhood, we may be able to prevent diabetes from developing later in life."

Grant, study co-leader Hakon Hakonarson, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Applied Genomics at Children's, and the rest of the research team examined data from an ongoing study about childhood obesity at CHOP. The new study included almost 7,200 Caucasian children, aged 2 to 18.

Results of the study were also published in Diabetes.