US researchers have unearthed a gene that stops mice on a high-fat diet from gaining weight, and believe it might also work for humans.
The Plin2 gene, which is present in both mice and humans, produces a protein that controls fat storage and metabolism.
When University of Colorado researchers bred a group of mice who were missing the Plin2 gene, they found they did not become obese.
"It may be possible to duplicate this in humans using existing technology that targets this specific gene," lead author Professor James McManaman said.
"It could mean that we have finally discovered a way to disrupt obesity in humans — that would be a major breakthrough."
Normally mice consume high fat food without restraint, but these mice held back and were also more active.
Their fat cells were 20 percent smaller than in typical mice and did not have the inflammatory markers that are usually seen with obesity.
"The mice were healthier," McManaman said.
"They had lower triglyceride levels, they were more insulin-sensitive, they had no incidents of fatty liver disease and there was less inflammation in the fat cells."
The researchers now want to work out why this is the case and work out how they can apply the knowledge to humans.
"Now we want to know why this works physiologically," McManaman said.
"We want to better understand how this affects food consumption."
Associate Professor Greg Cooney, principal research fellow at the Garvan Institute, told MSN NZ that it will be a long time before we can apply research like this to humans.
"There are a constant stream of studies like this that show changes in obesity with deletion of specific genes," he said.
The authors acknowledge that they're not sure why a gene that relates to fat storage also seems to control the desire for food.
"It's an interesting observation that taking this gene out affects energy intake or food intake, but what's not clear is why restricting the way you accumulate fat affects food intake," Cooney said.
Cooney said future research might look at people who naturally don't store fat, or eat a lot, and see whether their Plin2 gene malfunctions.
"This is knowledge rather than an immediate approach to helping people eat less," he said.
The study is published in the Journal of Lipid Research.