Exploring the Role of Proteins in Obesity

Exploring the Role of Proteins in Obesity

A study of proteins circulating in the bloodstream has identified several proteins that may play a causal role in obesity, making them potential targets for drugs and therapies.

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar examined more than 1,000 proteins in samples taken from individuals in Qatar as part of the Qatar Metabolomics Study on Diabetes, alongside data from European studies. In total, more than 4,600 individuals were involved in the three previous studies. The work was conducted in collaboration with the German Research Center for Environmental Health.

Using genetics to isolate the relevant proteins, they found that six proteins had a causal relationship with body mass index, even when other lifestyle factors were taken into consideration. Three of those proteins were found to contribute towards obesity, and at the same time, reflect the biological mechanisms resulting from increased body mass index.

The findings do not negate the need for people to avoid smoking, eat balanced diets, and perform exercise, but they do open up the possibility that medicinal interventions may one day be used to mitigate the role that these proteins play.

Dr. Karsten Suhre, [a Member of the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine] professor of physiology and biophysics and director of Bioinformatics Core at WCM-Q said: “Common diseases are a result of a complex interplay between genetics and a broad range of environmental perturbations. Environmental and lifestyle factors such as diet, physical activity and exposure to toxins can activate highly interacting protein networks, which in turn, may drive molecular mechanisms toward disease. This is likely the case for obesity, where environmental contributions to body mass index are well recognized.”

Proteins are the building blocks of the body and WCM-Q has the technology to examine them at a high degree of detail. In addition to finding evidence that six proteins had a causal relationship with obesity, the researchers also identified a further 150 proteins that were significantly associated with a higher body mass index.

Dr. Shaza Zaghlool, research associate in physiology and biophysics at WCM-Q, and first author of the paper, said: “Although we could not prove evidence for causality by these proteins, their association with obesity is still important. Such associations provide us with a greater understanding of the biological role that these proteins play in the development of obesity, and ultimately, in the role that obesity plays in the risk of developing diabetes, well beyond the usual lifestyle factors that everyone knows. This increases the possibility of developing drugs and therapies in the future that target obesity on a molecular level, together with the standard therapies like diet and exercise.”

The work was supported by the Biomedical Research Program at WCM-Q, a program funded by Qatar Foundation. Dr. Suhre’s work is also supported by Qatar National Research Fund. The study can be read in full at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21542-4

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The above article first appeared on the Weill Cornell Medicine–Qatar website