Heritability of body weight: moving beyond genetics.Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 2010; 20(10):691-7NM
Obesity is a complex disease, arising from the interaction between several genetic and environmental factors. Until recently, the genetic basis of complex diseases in general, and of obesity in particular, were poorly characterized. While the relatively rare monogenic and syndromic forms of obesity clearly recognize a genetic origin, the actual worldwide epidemics of obesity represent a challenge for the identification of the genetic factors involved, being likely the effect of several loci each having a subtle influence on the phenotypic expression. Progress in DNA analysis techniques and in computational tools, and the increasing level of characterization of the variability of the human genome has recently allowed to study comprehensively the association between genetic variants and obesity. To date, well-conducted and powered genome-wide association studies allowed to consistently identify genomic regions - lying on different chromosomes and affecting different metabolic pathways - influencing the predisposition to the accumulation of body fat, ultimately leading to overweight and obesity. However, the population attributable risk for obesity linked to the most statistically significant loci, like FTO and MC4R, remains discouragingly low, explaining only small fractions of the overall variance of body weight. In the last few years, the role of the complex interaction between genetic determinants and environmental factors in the rapid global increase of obesity has been further challenged by the entry of new players, that is the transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulation, summarized under the emerging discipline of epigenetics. The key challenge now is to move from the identification of causal genes and variants to the integration of different "omics" disciplines, finally allowing the molecular understanding of obesity and related conditions.