Abdominal adipose tissue shows more gene modifications than other fat depots

Researchers at the Integrated Research and Treatment Center (IFB) AdiposityDiseases of the University of Leipzig have found out that certain biochemical changes in the genes (methylation) are stronger in abdominal than in the subcutaneous adipose tissue.

Since abdominal accentuated overweight is particularly associated with comorbidities such as adiposity and diabetes the result could play a role for the increased risk of disease. The study results are published in the current journal Diabetologia.

The chemical changes of methylation have an influence on the DNA structure of the genes and not on the sequence of the DNA building blocks. Thus, they are described as epigenetic, meaning in addition to the genes. Methylation occurs naturally and causes that certain genes are turned on or off and can be effective. Although all body cells carry the same genes, skin cells can fulfill other functions as the liver cells, for example. The gene methylation as epigenetic change is not to be confused with pathological mutations.

The scientific team led by Dr. Yvonne Böttcher showed for the first time that abdominal fat and subcutaneous adipose tissue are epigenetically more different than researchers assumed up to date. The higher degree of chemical genetic change in the abdominal adipose tissue indicates that there are more genes turned off or less active. In both adipose tissues, there is a correlation between the degree of methylation and the abdominal circumference together with the ratio of hip to waist circumference. More abdominal adipose tissue appears to be associated with more methylation.

The chemical genetic change in the subcutaneous adipose tissue is also related to an important blood value that can show blood sugar levels and indicate type-2 diabetes. Böttcher, director of the IFB-Junior Research Group “Functional Genetics”, emphasizes that “the natural processes of epigenetic gene modifications by methylation are influenced inter alia by environmental factors such as exercise or nutrition.” Further studies will be necessary to get a complete picture of these gene-environment-interactions in cells and to understand their significance for diseases.

Scientific journal:
Global DNA methylation levels in human adipose tissue are related to fat distribution and glucose homeostasis, Diabetologica,  DOI 10.1007/s00125-014-3356-z;  Link to publication