Survey-based study reveals limitations in obesity treatment
In a previous study, they analyzed saliva samples from a subset of the enrolled children for methylation of genes associated with obesity. Methylation is an epigenetic "mark" on DNA that regulates gene expression. They found that methylation at 17 DNA sites in the child's baseline saliva was associated with the mother's BMI and waist circumference, suggesting that obesity risk may be transmitted from mother to child.
Now, they have evaluated associations between baseline salivary methylation and objective changes in child BMI after three years in the study.
"At baseline, these children were all non-obese, but based on their maternal BMI, their DNA was methylated differently at 17 sites," Barkin said. "Now we know that some of them emerged into obesity. We asked, 'Could we have predicted that from differences in methylation, even after accounting for maternal BMI and assessing other behavioral factors?'"
The answer looks like it is "yes." The investigators found that methylation of a gene called NRF1, which has roles in adipose tissue inflammation, was associated with childhood obesity. A child with the NRF1 methylation at baseline had a threefold increased odds of being obese three years later, after controlling for maternal BMI and other factors.
"This is a proof-of-principle study; it needs to be repeated with larger numbers of children," Barkin said. "But even with small numbers, we found a really important signal using salivary epigenetics."
The study demonstrates the utility of using saliva for epigenetic studies and points to at least one gene, NRF1, that should be more extensively studied for its role in the emergence of obesity.
"Most studies have looked for factors in children who are already obese," Barkin said. "Our study demonstrates that there are already changes in the physiology -- a pathway to obesity -- even before the phenotype of obesity emerges. If we can define a predictive epigenetic signature, we can intervene earlier to reduce health disparities in common conditions like obesity." Source:
Vanderbilt University Medical Center Journal reference:
Rushing, A., et al. (2020) Salivary epigenetic biomarkers as predictors of emerging childhood obesity. BMC Medical Genetics . doi.org/10.1186/s12881-020-0968-7 .
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