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Newly Discovered Mouse Gene May Provide Clues About Human Obesity

The discovery of a gene in mice that affects eating behavior and physical activity may have valuable implications for human obesity research. The mahogany gene, so called because of the mutation in coat color that it produces in mice, was identified by researchers at Stanford and Harvard medical schools.

“Mice without the mahogany gene both eat more and exercise more than those with the gene,” according to investigator Gregory Barsh, M.D., Ph.D., whose study was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and published in the March 11 issue of the journal Nature. Barsh, an associate professor of pediatrics and genetics at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Stanford University School of Medicine, says it is unclear whether the increased activity causes overeating or whether excessive eating causes the overactivity—or whether the two are causally related at all—but the gene does appear to affect both metabolism and appetite.

The protein that the mahogany gene produces in mice is identical to a form of the human protein attractin. Further study of the mahogany gene will deepen our understanding of its role in weight regulation, and may prove helpful in obesity treatment in humans.


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