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New study on obesity: We inherit the dangerous fat from Dad - and the good fat from Mom

Brown fat cells burn off a lot of calories, whereas an excess of white fat cells make us overweight and ill. Now researchers have identified a new gene in brown fat cells; a gene that may be crucial for the future's treatment of obesity.

By Birgitte Svennevig, , 9/6/2018

A team of researchers, led by Professor Jan-Wilhelm Kornfeld from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Southern Denmark, Elena Schmidt from the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research, Cologne, Germany and Martin Bilban from the Medial University, Vienna, Austria made a groundbreaking discovery in obesity research.

The team has discovered a new function of the gene H19. This gene proves to have a unique protective effect against the development of overweight and consequently could affect the onset of overweight-associated disease such as diabetes, overweight and cardiovascular diseases.

H19 belongs to the app. one percent of our genes,which we - as opposed to the remaining 99 percent - inherit exclusively from either our mother or father, the so-called monoallelic genes.

Dad's bad fat on our stomach and thighs

As a result of extensive studies, the researchers have also discovered how genes derived from our father primarily lead to the development of white fat tissue, which most often are found on the stomach, thighs and backside, and which can lead to metabolic diseases.

Likewise, it appears that genes from our mother primarily lead to the development of brown fat tissue, which is characterized by having a protective effect against obesity.

Professor Jan-Wilhelm Kornfeld and Martin Bilban are delighted with the research results.

Researchers want to control obesity

In their view,  the results could constitute a first step towards the development of better treatments of obesity.

- By using mouse models, we have identified that the gene H19 performs a form of gene control in brown fat cells. We have been able to demonstrate that an overexpression of the H19 gene in mice protects against obesity and insulin resistance. In addition, we have been able to detect similar patterns of gene control in obese people. We therefore believe that our results can be the first step towards developing groundbreaking new and improved treatments for obesity-related diseases, says Professor Jan-Wilhelm Kornfeld.

The team behind the study has published the research results in the journal Nature Communications.

Jan-Wilhelm Kornfeld's research is supported by the Danish Diabetes Academy, founded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation.


Jan-Wilhelm Kornfeld is a Professor at Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Southern Denmark.

Visit Kornfeld's lab

Editing was completed: 06.09.2018