Scientists ID Gene for Which Variants Are Associated with Thinness; Thinness-Associated Variants of ALK Gene Found in GWAS Study of Over 47,000 in Estonian Biobank; Results Highlight Important Therapeutic Potential of ALK Inhibition

A noticeable impact on the waistline of many people is a side-effect of the quarantine due to the global COVID19 outbreak. Reduced activity and lack of sports while consuming the same, or even elevated, amounts of calories can quickly cause a substantial weight gain. Strikingly, some individuals can make it through this period without gaining any weight--we all know these people who can eat what they want, but do not appear to gain weight. A consortium of international researchers including scientists from the IMBA (Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences), the University of British Columbia, the Medical University of Vienna, and the Estonian Biobank have now taken a unique approach: thus far, the regulation of fat metabolism has mainly focused on finding genes linked to obesity. This team, however, went on a quest to discover genes linked to thinness, or the resistance to weight gain. In order to identify candidate thinness genes, the research team conducted genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in an Estonian population cohort, profiling over 47,000 people. The researchers compared thin to control individuals and were thereby able to determine that variants in the ALK (anaplastic lymphoma kinase) gene (image of ALK protein shown below) were associated with thinness. ALK is mainly known due to its involvement in cancer, as it is frequently mutated in multiple cancers. However, its physiological function has been largely elusive. The article describing the new thinness research was published online on May 21, 2020 in Cell, and it is titled “Identification of ALK in Thinness.” To test the hypothesis of ALK variants being involved in thinness, the researchers inactivated the Alk gene in mice.
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