Identification of ALK in Thinness

Cell. 2020 Jun 11;181(6):1246-1262.e22. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.04.034. Epub 2020 May 21.


There is considerable inter-individual variability in susceptibility to weight gain despite an equally obesogenic environment in large parts of the world. Whereas many studies have focused on identifying the genetic susceptibility to obesity, we performed a GWAS on metabolically healthy thin individuals (lowest 6th percentile of the population-wide BMI spectrum) in a uniquely phenotyped Estonian cohort. We discovered anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) as a candidate thinness gene. In Drosophila, RNAi mediated knockdown of Alk led to decreased triglyceride levels. In mice, genetic deletion of Alk resulted in thin animals with marked resistance to diet- and leptin-mutation-induced obesity. Mechanistically, we found that ALK expression in hypothalamic neurons controls energy expenditure via sympathetic control of adipose tissue lipolysis. Our genetic and mechanistic experiments identify ALK as a thinness gene, which is involved in the resistance to weight gain.

Keywords: GWAS; anaplastic lymphoma kinase; energy expenditure; hypothalamus; lipolysis; norepinephrine; thinness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Adult
  • Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cohort Studies
  • Drosophila / genetics
  • Estonia
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leptin / genetics
  • Lipolysis / genetics
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Obesity / genetics
  • RNA Interference / physiology
  • Thinness / genetics*
  • Young Adult


  • Leptin
  • ALK protein, human
  • Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase