Single nucleotide polymorphisms of thrifty genes for energy metabolism: evolutionary origins and prospects for intervention to prevent obesity-related diseases

Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2002 Jul 12;295(2):207-22. doi: 10.1016/s0006-291x(02)00680-0.


The "thrifty" genotype and phenotype that save energy are detrimental to the health of people living in affluent societies. Individual differences in energy metabolism are caused primarily by single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), some of which promote the development of obesity/type 2 diabetes mellitus. In this review, four major questions are addressed: (1) Why did regional differences in energy metabolism develop during evolution? (2) How do genes respond to starvation and affluence? (3) Which SNPs correspond to the hypothetical "thrifty genes"? (4) How can we cope with disease susceptibility caused by the "thrifty" SNPs? We examined mtDNA and genes for energy metabolism in people who live in several parts of Asia and the Pacific islands. We included 14 genes, and the SNP frequencies of PPAR gamma 2, LEPR, and UCP3-p and some other genes differ significantly between Mongoloids and Caucasoids. These differences in SNPs may have been caused by natural selection depending on the types of agriculture practiced in different regions. Interventions to counteract the adverse effects of "thrifty" SNPs have been partially effective.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome, Human
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Obesity / genetics*
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide*
  • Starvation