An international research team has discovered that a pervasive human RNA modification provides the physiological underpinning of the genetic regulatory process that contributes to obesity and type II diabetes. European researchers previously showed, in 2007, that the FTO gene was the major gene associated with obesity and type II diabetes, but the details of the gene’s physiological and cellular functioning remained unknown. Now, a team led by University of Chicago chemistry professor Dr. Chuan He has demonstrated experimentally the importance of a reversible RNA modification process mediated by the FTO protein upon biological regulation. Dr. He and ten co-authors from Chicago, China and England published the details of their findings in the October 16, 2011 advance online edition of Nature Chemical Biology. Dr. He and his colleagues have shown, for the first time, the existence of the reversible RNA modification process — called methylation — and that it potentially impacts protein expression and function through its action on a common RNA base: adenosine. The process is reversible because it can involve the addition or removal of a methyl group from adenosine. The team found that the FTO protein mediates cellular removal of the methyl group. "An improved understanding of the normal functions of FTO, as exemplified by this work, could aid the development of novel anti-obesity therapies," said Dr. Stephen O'Rahilly, professor of clinical biochemistry and director of the Metabolic Research Laboratories at the University of Cambridge. Dr. O'Rahilly, a leading researcher in obesity and metabolic disease who also has studied FTO, was not directly involved in Dr. He's project.
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