A University of Virginia study discovered 162 genes in fat tissue that differ in the way they are expressed between men and women, which could impact disease risk.
Although it has been known for a while that there are differences in fat-associated genes between the sexes, the exact details regarding gene expression and regulation were less clear.
In this study, which was published in the journal Genome Research, Mete Civelek, Ph.D., a senior researcher in the biomedical engineering department at the University of Virginia, and team analyzed 3000 samples from an international and ethnically diverse cohort of people to assess differences in the expression of genes in fatty tissue in men and women.
The genes that were isolated by Civelek and colleagues are involved in energy release from fat and the formation of fat cells, among other things. Some of the genes identified were previously linked to cardiovascular and metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
“Obesity is associated with a number of health risks and how men and women store excess calories as fat makes a difference in how they have different susceptibilities to common diseases,” said Civelek.
“We studied people of different ethnicities and health conditions, and we found a group of genes that are different in their abundance between men and women independent of ethnicity or health status.”
As well as analyzing gene expression differences, the researchers searched for genes involved in the regulation of gene expression and found six that were also different between women and men and seemed to regulate expression of the other genes discovered by the team.
For example, the gene FADS1 – previously linked to risk for cardiovascular diseases such as stroke – and MAP1B, which is involved in the formation of the neurological system.
This research adds a genetic element to earlier work analyzing differences in fat distribution around the body between the sexes. For instance, it is now well established that central obesity – mostly experienced by men – is more damaging to cardiometabolic health than the more ‘pear shape’ fat distribution seen mostly in women.
“We believe our findings will be beneficial in precision medicine efforts to find drug targets that can help with specific problems that men and women face,” Civelek said.
“For example, men are more prone to cardiovascular disorders and women to obesity. The fat genes we identified could contribute to the severity of those illnesses and how men and women respond to treatment differently.”