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Major obesity gene is 'lost in the shuffle'

Scientists from The University of Tokyo announce today that gibbons, arboreal primates that inhabit the jungles of Southeast Asia, do not carry a major obesity gene that is present in the genomes of all other primates, including humans. This omission is due to a genetic mis-shuffling event that occurred approximately 25 million years ago. Their results are reported in the April issue of the scientific journal Genome Research.

Agouti signaling protein (ASIP) was the first "obesity gene" to be cloned and characterized by geneticists, but it also plays an important role in other physiological processes ?ranging from hair color determination to energy homeostasis. Mice that over-produce ASIP are extremely obese, exhibit symptoms of diabetes, and have yellow fur, while mice that lack the ASIP gene are black in color. The gene is widely expressed in tissues throughout the body, so it presumably plays a yet-to-be-defined role in additional biological processes.

The ASIP gene has been characterized in fish, chickens, and various mammals, but no detailed investigation of ASIP has yet been performed in primates. With this in mind, Takafumi Ishida, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at The University of Tokyo, and his colleague Kazuhiro Nakayama set out to compare the DNA sequences of the ASIP gene from various primates, including Old and New World monkeys, gibbons, gorillas, and chimpanzees. They discovered that the ASIP gene was highly conserved among most of these primates, but, surprisingly, a 100-kilobase segment of DNA harboring the ASIP gene was missing in gibbons.

"We found that this deletion occurred between two pieces of DNA that are quite abundant in primate genomes, called Alu elements," explains Nakayama. "We located one copy of a specific Alu element on either side of the ASIP gene. Our study shows that during the evolution of gibbons, these Alu elements lin
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Source:Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory


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