University of Minnesota researchers have discovered a variant of a common blood protein, apolipoprotein C1, in people of American Indian and Mexican ancestry that is linked to elevated body mass index (BMI), obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Lead investigator Gary Nelsestuen, a professor in the College of Biological Sciences’ department of biochemistry, said the abnormal protein may promote metabolic efficiency and storage of body fat when food is abundant. This could have provided a survival advantage to American Indians in the past when food was scarce. The discovery can be used to identify those who are at risk for diabetes and to guide diet and lifestyle choices to prevent diabetes.
Apolipoprotein C1 is a component of high density lipoprotein (HDL) and low density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL cholesterol is often referred to as good cholesterol, while LDL is called bad cholesterol. The common form of C1 tends to be found in the high-density protein complexes (HDL) that ferry cholesterol to storage depots in the body and are linked to lower cardiovascular disease risk. But the variant form of C1 tends to become part of low density protein complexes (LDL), which transport cholesterol to arterial walls and are associated with higher cardiovascular disease risk. Thus, having the variant could tip the balance of cholesterol carriers and lead toward depletion of HDL-also a risk factor for heart disease.
Among 1500 subjects from widely divergent genetic backgrounds, the variant was found in 35 of 228 persons with American Indian ancestry and in 10 of 84 persons with Mexican ancestry. The average body mass index (BMI) of persons with the variant protein was 9 percent higher and the diabetes rate 50 percent higher among study subjects and their parents. Parents were included because type 2 diabetes often doesn’t appear until later in life.
The finding were published in the Feb. 20 online issue of the International Journal of Obesity.
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