Researchers from London claim to have identified a master regulator gene that causes obesity, is linked to diabetes and cholesterol, and controls the behavior of distant genes existing inside fat cells. This discovery may potentially help steer more effective treatments for obesity-related illness.

The KLF14 gene is inherited from the mother (the same gene inherited from the father is not active and has no effect). Researchers surmise medications could developed to target KLF14, improving the efficiency of treatment for several metabolic diseases. The study was published in this week’s issue of Nature Genetics.Researchers of the large, multinational collaboration called the MuTHER study took subcutaneous fat biopsies of 776 female twins in the UK and analyzed over 20,000 genes in the fat cells. KLF14, a gene known to have been linked to cholesterol and diabetes type 2, was found to influence the behavior of distant genes that influence BMI (body mass index), glucose levels, insulin levels, cholesterol and obesity. These findings were also supported by an independent sample of 600 subcutaneous fat biopsies from patients in Iceland.

“This is the first major study that shows how small changes in one master regulator gene can cause a cascade of other metabolic effects in other genes,” writes Professor Tim Spector, study leader. “This has great therapeutic potential particularly as by studying large detailed populations such as the twins we hope to find more of these regulators.”