Genes in human obesity loci are causal obesity genes in C. elegans.

PLoS Genet

Obesity and its associated metabolic syndrome are a leading cause of morbidity and mortality. Given the disease's heavy burden on patients and the healthcare system, there has been increased interest in identifying pharmacological targets for the treatment and prevention of obesity. Towards this end, genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified hundreds of human genetic variants associated with obesity. The next challenge is to experimentally define which of these variants are causally linked to obesity, and could therefore become targets for the treatment or prevention of obesity. Here we employ high-throughput in vivo RNAi screening to test for causality 293 C. elegans orthologs of human obesity-candidate genes reported in GWAS. We RNAi screened these 293 genes in C. elegans subject to two different feeding regimens: (1) regular diet, and (2) high-fructose diet, which we developed and present here as an invertebrate model of diet-induced obesity (DIO). We report 14 genes that promote obesity and 3 genes that prevent DIO when silenced in C. elegans. Further, we show that knock-down of the 3 DIO genes not only prevents excessive fat accumulation in primary and ectopic fat depots but also improves the health and extends the lifespan of C. elegans overconsuming fructose. Importantly, the direction of the association between expression variants in these loci and obesity in mice and humans matches the phenotypic outcome of the loss-of-function of the C. elegans ortholog genes, supporting the notion that some of these genes would be causally linked to obesity across phylogeny. Therefore, in addition to defining causality for several genes so far merely correlated with obesity, this study demonstrates the value of model systems compatible with in vivo high-throughput genetic screening to causally link GWAS gene candidates to human diseases.

Year of Publication
PLoS Genet
Date Published
2021 Sep
PubMed ID
PubMed Central ID
Grant list
K99 DK087928 / DK / NIDDK NIH HHS / United States
R00 DK087928 / DK / NIDDK NIH HHS / United States
R01 DK118287 / DK / NIDDK NIH HHS / United States
T32 HL007284 / HL / NHLBI NIH HHS / United States
R35 GM122547 / GM / NIGMS NIH HHS / United States