Scientists Link ALK Gene to Thinness

Posted on June 1, 2020

Researchers say they have linked the gene ALK to thinness. ALK codes for Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase. A new study found that this gene may be linked to energy expenditure controlled by the hypothalamus.

Reduced activity and increased calorie consumption leads to weight gain in most humans. However, a small group of individuals can make it through these periods without gaining weight. These people seem to be able to eat as much as they want and not gain weight.

Genomeweb quotes Joseph Penninger, senior author of the study from the University of British Columbia, as saying, "We all know these people: it's around one percent of the population. They can eat whatever they want and be metabolically healthy."

Researchers from the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) at at the Vienna BioCenter believe they have discovered that ALK may play a role in weight gain following tests on mice and flies.

The researchers inactivated the ALK gene in mice and found that ALK deficient mice were skinnier despite normal intake and activity. The researchers also found significantly lower triglyceride fat accumulation even when fruit flies (with knocked down ALK orthologues) were fed a high-sucrose diet.

Michael Orthofer from the Penninger lab and first author of the study says in a statement, "By using a technique called indirect calorimetry, we could show that Alk deficient mice exhibit increased energy expenditure. This means that they burn more calories than normal mice and explains why they remain thin even if they eat the same amount of food. In addition to that, these animals also show improved glucose tolerance."

The findings could mean existing ALK inhibitors could result in weight loss in humans but tests will be needed, possible with humans taking the drugs while eating a high calorie diet and not exercising.

Penninger says, "ALK inhibitors are used in cancer treatments already. It's targetable. We could possibly inhibit ALK, and we actually will try to do this in the future."

A research paper on the study was published in Cell.

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