Press release 2019/200 from

Dr Kathrin Landgraf received the journal Molecular Metabolism’s Young Investigator Award for best abstract at this year’s Helmholtz Diabetes Conference, which took place at the end of September. As a member of the team led by Professor Antje Körner, the biologist from Leipzig was able to show in her work that a particular obesity gene plays an important role in the development of healthy fatty tissue. In obese individuals, this is already dysfunctional in childhood. This allowed the researchers to understand the functional relevance of the gene.

Dr Kathrin Landgraf receives the award for best abstract from conference president Professor Stephan Herzig and Professor Christian Wolfrum, editor of the journal Molecular Metabolism. Photo: HMGU © Helmholtz Zentrum München, Jan Roeder

Dr Kathrin Landgraf receives the award for best abstract from conference president Professor Stephan Herzig and Professor Christian Wolfrum, editor of the journal Molecular Metabolism. Photo: HMGU © Helmholtz Zentrum...

It is not just a poor diet and lack of exercise that are to blame for obesity. Genetics also plays a role: more than 100 genes or gene variants contribute to people gradually becoming fatter. In recent years, genome-wide association studies have identified candidate genes linked to obesity.

Gene TMEM18 controls development of fat cells
Biologist Dr Kathrin Landgraf from Professor Antje Körner’s team at Leipzig University Hospital’s Center for Pediatric Research Leipzig (CPL) investigated the second strongest candidate – the gene TMEM18. In experiments on cell cultures, in the animal model and with fatty tissue samples from clinical cohorts, the scientist was able to show that the gene is functionally relevant for human fatty tissue. “The gene controls the development of new metabolically active fat cells, or adipocytes. In the fatty tissue of people with obesity, the gene is downregulated,” explains Dr Kathrin Landgraf. Misregulation can already be detected in childhood. “We have thus identified a factor that is important for the development of healthy fat tissue. Our aim now is to understand why this gene is downregulated in overweight people and, in the more distant future, perhaps find ways to counteract this,” adds Professor Antje Körner, Professor of General Paediatrics and Paediatric Research at Leipzig University’s Faculty of Medicine.

Research programme
Dr Landgraf’s work fits into the research spectrum of Antje Körner’s team, which seeks to find factors that promote the development of obesity and its early consequences in childhood: when does obesity develop in children? What promotes the development of obesity in children? What occurs in the fatty tissue itself? It is particularly important for the research team to shed light on the underlying mechanisms behind the risk factors.

Obesity research in Leipzig
Researching the mechanisms and treatment of obesity has been a focus of university research in Leipzig for many years. Building on strategic appointments in medicine and the life sciences, a diverse research landscape has emerged dedicated to the prevention and treatment of the disease. Obesity research in Leipzig encompasses a wide range of topics, including genetic associations, metabolic disorders, mechanisms of fat accumulation, the role of the brain in eating, and therapeutic interventions for losing and maintaining weight.

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