by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

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Here is the tale of a protein whose name turned out to be premonitory. Shortly before the closing of the last millennium, the fused toe of mice led to the discovery of a gene which was subsequently baptised Ft for ‘fused toe’. A mutation in Ft disrupted the activity of a certain number of other genes, one of which was surprisingly large, and consequently named ‘FATSO’.

Almost a decade later, two laboratories demonstrated that the human FATSO counterpart is actually involved in child and adult obesity… The fact that a gene plays a part in obesity some way or another is no real scoop. A number of proteins have been known to do so for years already. However, what is special with fatso protein is that research has shown that there is a direct link between FATSO carriers and obesity predisposition.

Following studies on thousands of individuals – lean and obese – it has been demonstrated that carriers of a particular fatso variant are two times more prone to obesity than their peers and weigh – on an average – 3 kg more. Furthermore, those carrying two copies of the variant have a 22% chance of gaining more pounds than is healthy for them.

Despite fatso protein’s obvious association with the accumulation of flab, its function and 3D structure remain a mystery. No one knows how it proceeds to make people fat. However, the discovery of a direct link between a gene and obesity makes fatso something to take seriously. Indeed, besides being at the heart of aesthetics that are not popular in this day and age, obesity is also the cause of a number of ailments such as cardiovascular diseases, certain forms of diabetes and even types of cancer. And millions of people are suffering from it world-wide.

UniProt cross references

Protein fatso, Homo sapiens (Human): Q9C0B1

Protein Spotlight (ISSN 1424-4721) is a monthly review written by the Swiss-Prot team of the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics. Spotlight articles describe a specific protein or family of proteins on an informal tone. Follow us: Subscribe · Twitter · Facebook