Leanness gene discovered in mice

The discovery of a gene linked to 'leanness' in mice gives new hope for a treatment for type 2 diabetes.

Obese mouse

Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory/US Department of Energy/Science Photo Library

New research has found that a drug can lessen the severity of type 2 diabetes in obese mice.

In the past two decades, researchers have discovered several genes linked to obesity. Wellcome-funded researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Ljubljana have identified a gene linked to 'leanness', rather than obesity.

They found that the fat tissues of very lean mice contained high levels of a protein called TST, which is produced by a gene of the same name. This protein helps to remove harmful waste products that can accumulate in the fat cells as a result of a high-calorie diet. Mice bred to have high levels of TST stayed lean and did not get diabetes, despite a very high-calorie diet.

A drug that activates this TST gene – thiosulphate – was then given to very obese mice with diabetes. Although it had no effect on their weight, it lessened the severity of the diabetes. This suggests that a version of the medicine could be developed as a therapy for people with the disease.

Thiosulphate is already used as an antidote for cyanide poisoning. It would need to be developed further before being a suitable drug for type 2 diabetics.

For more information, please read the University of Edinburgh's press release.