, Volume 57, Issue 7, pp 1276-1286
Date: 16 Mar 2014

The genetics of fat distribution


Fat stored in visceral depots makes obese individuals more prone to complications than subcutaneous fat. There is good evidence that body fat distribution (FD) is controlled by genetic factors. WHR, a surrogate measure of FD, shows significant heritability of up to ∼60%, even after adjusting for BMI. Genetic variants have been linked to various forms of altered FD such as lipodystrophies; however, the polygenic background of visceral obesity has only been sparsely investigated in the past. Recent genome-wide association studies (GWAS) for measures of FD revealed numerous loci harbouring genes potentially regulating FD. In addition, genes with fat depot-specific expression patterns (in particular subcutaneous vs visceral adipose tissue) provide plausible candidate genes involved in the regulation of FD. Many of these genes are differentially expressed in various fat compartments and correlate with obesity-related traits, thus further supporting their role as potential mediators of metabolic alterations associated with a distinct FD. Finally, developmental genes may at a very early stage determine specific FD in later life. Indeed, genes such as TBX15 not only manifest differential expression in various fat depots, but also correlate with obesity and related traits. Moreover, recent GWAS identified several polymorphisms in developmental genes (including TBX15, HOXC13, RSPO3 and CPEB4) strongly associated with FD. More accurate methods, including cardiometabolic imaging, for assessment of FD are needed to promote our understanding in this field, where the main focus is now to unravel the yet unknown biological function of these novel ‘fat distribution genes’.

Dorit Schleinitz and Yvonne Böttcher contributed equally to this study.