Researchers zero-in on hunger gene

Researcher and image of DNA string
Researchers have found a human gene linked to obesity and postpartum depression. | Photo: Natali Mis (iStock)

Researchers have discovered the human gene linked to obesity and a form of depression, leading to hope it could be used as a marker for treatments.

A team from the University of Cambridge, in England, and collaborating institutions found alterations in the human gene TRPC5 caused obesity and postpartum depression.

Dr Sadaf Farooqi said studies in cells, animal models and humans showed that TRPC5 acted on distinct neuronal populations in the hypothalamus, a brain region that regulated multiple innate behaviours including feeding, anxiety, socialization and maternal care.

Dr Farooqi said the findings, published in the journal Cell, identified TRPC5 as a diagnostic marker of obesity and postpartum depression and suggested potential therapeutic strategies to treat these conditions.

“Our investigation into the role of TRPC5 in obesity and postpartum depression began with the finding that the X chromosomes of two unrelated boys with intense food-seeking behaviour, severe obesity and other altered behaviours were missing a small piece that included this gene.

“Their mothers had obesity, anxiety and postpartum depression. We found that they were carriers – one of their two X chromosomes was missing the TRPC5 gene.”

Dr Farooqi said obesity and postpartum depression were significant global health problems.

He said according to the World Health Organization, obesity had more than doubled in adults since 1990, and quadrupled in adolescents, while postpartum depression occurred in 10 to 15 percent of mothers and was associated with significant maternal health problems.

“Globally, postpartum depression remains a major cause of death by suicide in women at a time when maternal mortality due to infections and haemorrhage has declined.”

Read the full study.