The association of insertions/deletions (INDELs) and variable number tandem repeats (VNTRs) with obesity and its related traits and complications

J Physiol Anthropol. 2017 Jun 14;36(1):25. doi: 10.1186/s40101-017-0142-x.


Background: Despite the fact that insertions/deletions (INDELs) are the second most common type of genetic variations and variable number tandem repeats (VNTRs) represent a large portion of the human genome, they have received far less attention than single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and larger forms of structural variation like copy number variations (CNVs), especially in genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of complex diseases like polygenic obesity. This is exemplified by the vast amount of review papers on the role of SNPs and CNVs in obesity, its related traits (like anthropometric measurements, biochemical variables, and eating behavior), and its related complications (like hypertension, hypertriglyceridemia, hypercholesterolemia, and insulin resistance-collectively known as metabolic syndrome). Hence, this paper reviews the types of INDELs and VNTRs that have been studied for association with obesity and its related traits and complications. These INDELs and VNTRs could be found in the obesity loci or genes from the earliest GWAS and candidate gene association studies, like FTO, genes in the leptin-proopiomelanocortin pathway, and UCP2/3. Given the important role of the brain serotonergic and dopaminergic reward system in obesity susceptibility, the association of INDELs and VNTRs in these neurotransmitters' metabolism and transport genes with obesity is also reviewed. Next, the role of INS VNTR in obesity and its related traits is questionable, since recent large-scale studies failed to replicate the earlier positive associations. As obesity results in chronic low-grade inflammation of the adipose tissue, the proinflammatory cytokine gene IL1RA and anti-inflammatory cytokine gene IL4 have VNTRs that are implicated in obesity. A systemic proinflammatory state in combination with activation of the renin-angiotensin system and decreased nitric oxide bioavailability as found in obesity leads to endothelial dysfunction. This explains why VNTR and INDEL in eNOS and ACE, respectively, could be predisposing factors of obesity. Finally, two novel genes, DOCK5 and PER3, which are involved in the regulation of the Akt/MAPK pathway and circadian rhythm, respectively, have VNTRs and INDEL that might be associated with obesity.

Short conclusion: In conclusion, INDELs and VNTRs could have important functional consequences in the pathophysiology of obesity, and research on them should be continued to facilitate obesity prediction, prevention, and treatment.

Keywords: Anthropometric measurements; Genetic variation; Indels; Obesity; Variable number of tandem repeats.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anthropometry
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • INDEL Mutation / genetics*
  • Minisatellite Repeats / genetics*
  • Obesity / genetics*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics