Background: There is increasing evidence of genetic factors leading to obesity, but the exact genes involved have not been defined. Peroxisome-proliferator-activated receptor gamma2 (PPARgamma2) is a transcription factor that has a key role in adipocyte differentiation, and therefore mutations of the gene for this factor might predispose people to obesity.
Methods: We studied 358 unrelated German subjects, including 121 obese subjects (defined as those with a body-mass index [the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters] of more than 29). We evaluated these subjects for mutations in the gene for PPARgamma2 at or near a site of serine phosphorylation at position 114 that negatively regulates the transcriptional activity of the protein, using a polymerase-chain-reaction-based assay coupled with specific endonuclease digestion. The activity of the mutation identified was analyzed by retroviral transfection and overexpression in murine fibroblasts.
Results: Four of the 121 obese subjects had a missense mutation in the gene for PPARgamma2 that resulted in the conversion of proline to glutamine at position 115, as compared with none of the 237 subjects of normal weight (P=0.01). All the subjects with the mutant allele were markedly obese, with body-mass-index values ranging from 37.9 to 47.3, as compared with a mean of 33.6 in the other obese subjects. Overexpression of the mutant gene in murine fibroblasts led to the production of a protein in which the phosphorylation of serine at position 114 was defective, as well as to accelerated differentiation of the cells into adipocytes and greater cellular accumulation of triglyceride than with the wild-type PPARgamma2. These effects were similar to those of an in vitro mutation created directly at the Ser114 phosphorylation site.
Conclusions: A Pro115Gln mutation in PPARgamma2 accelerates the differentiation of adipocytes and may cause obesity.