Research Highlights

Two new genes linked to childhood obesity

Published online 19 April 2012

Mohammed Yahia

Childhood obesity is increasingly a health problem especially in developed countries. While environmental factors such as lifestyle changes are partly to blame, there are many genetic traits that have been linked to obesity in adults.

An international team of researchers, led by Jonathan Bradfield from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), Pennsylvania, have analyzed 14 existing genome-wide association studies (GWAS), covering 5,530 cases from North America, Europe and Australia. The team, which includes Dennis Mook-Kanamori from Weill Cornell Medical College–Qatar in Doha, identified two new genetic loci that might be involved in obesity in young people.

One gene, OLFM4, encodes a protein that reduces innate immunity to the stomach bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which was found to occur more frequently in obese people than lean ones. The other gene, HOXB5, encodes the protein homeobox B5 which is involved in gut development.

Thus the researchers suggest that each of the two genes increase obesity by affecting different aspects of gut development. Further research is needed to determine the exact mechanisms by which these two genes play their part.

"We would like to investigate how these loci operate in the context of other ethnicities and query how they interact with the environment so we can get a better idea of how to tailor lifestyle and dietary advice to the individual in the future," says Struan Grant, associated director of the Center for Applied Genomics at CHOP and a co-author of the research paper.


  1. Bradfield, J.P. et al. Nature Genetics (2012) doi:10.1038/ng.2247