London, April 5 : A leading Indian-origin researcher at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge has claimed that a viral gene may trigger obesity by causing fat cells to grow.
Nikhil Dhurandhar, a University of Bombay alumnus, now hopes that it may be possible to treat "viral obesity" by altering the action of this gene.
He and his colleagues have already shown in a previous study that Adenovirus-36 (Ad-36) causes precursor cells to differentiate into fat cells, and may promote obesity in humans and animals.
In their latest study, the researchers engineered stem cells from human fat to express a single gene from this virus, called E4 ORF-1.
They observed that the cells were much more likely to differentiate into fat cells than those that did not express the gene.
As the researchers blocked the expression of E4 ORF-1 in cells infected by Ad-36, the cells failed to differentiate into fat cells.
Dhurandhar says that this phenomenon is a proof that this gene is both necessary and sufficient for fat cell differentiation.
He believes that blocking E4 ORF-1 in humans may offer a potent therapy for Ad-36-induced obesity someday.
Since the gene also makes cells more responsive to insulin, Dhurandhar believes that medicines that simulate this action of the gene may offer a potential treatment for type 2 diabetes as well.
A report describing Dhurandhar's research has been published in the International Journal of Obesity.