ADIPOSITY: A simple silhouette says a lot about cardiometabolic risk


Clearly, the same body shape in men and in women, associated with a similar distribution of fat, does not predict the same metabolic risk and the genetic differences that lead to this distribution of fat affect the metabolic risk differently in each sex. This study by the University of Virginia Health System thus deciphers, through genomic differences and in the journal Genome Research, how a simple silhouette says a lot, but differently, in men and in women.

Obesity is associated with a number of health risks, and the way that men and women store excess calories as fat makes a difference in their respective risks for common illnesses. Researchers at the University of Virginia show that the differences in the distribution and accumulation of fat in men and women strongly affect the activity of 162 genes present in adipose tissue. While previous studies had already identified thousands of genes found in fat that appeared to behave differently based on gender, this new study identifies “robust” differences in just 162 genes.

13 fat genes have different effects on men and women.

This is the analysis of approximately 3,000 human samples taken from population groups of different ethnicities, and this analysis identifies genes directly linked to the risk of cardiometabolic disease. Some of these genes had previously been linked to conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, however:

  • 162 genes are strongly associated with differences in fat distribution and accumulation in males and females;
  • 13 of these fat genes come in variants that induce different effects and risks in men and women;
  • 6 specific genes appear to be particularly influential in terms of the regulation of adipose tissue activity.

Potential therapeutic targets: these 6 genes appear promising targets to fight against the localized accumulation of adipose tissue ( pear-shaped vs apple-shaped silhouette, for example). Targeting these specific genes would yield distinct therapeutic results in men and women.

It is a further step towards precision medicine to fight obesity and its specific comorbidities according to gender: for example, men are more prone to cardiovascular disorders and women to obesity.

The fat genes identified with this study contribute not only to the severity of the diseases associated with adiposity but also to the response to treatment, which is also gender-specific.