Open Access Research article

A Drosophila functional evaluation of candidates from human genome-wide association studies of type 2 diabetes and related metabolic traits identifies tissue-specific roles for dHHEX

Jay Pendse1, Prasanna V Ramachandran2, Jianbo Na1, Narisu Narisu3, Jill L Fink2, Ross L Cagan1, Francis S Collins3 and Thomas J Baranski2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Developmental and Regenerative Biology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA

2 Department of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO, USA

3 Genome Technology Branch, National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA

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BMC Genomics 2013, 14:136  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-136

Published: 27 February 2013



Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) identify regions of the genome that are associated with particular traits, but do not typically identify specific causative genetic elements. For example, while a large number of single nucleotide polymorphisms associated with type 2 diabetes (T2D) and related traits have been identified by human GWAS, only a few genes have functional evidence to support or to rule out a role in cellular metabolism or dietary interactions. Here, we use a recently developed Drosophila model in which high-sucrose feeding induces phenotypes similar to T2D to assess orthologs of human GWAS-identified candidate genes for risk of T2D and related traits.


Disrupting orthologs of certain T2D candidate genes (HHEX, THADA, PPARG, KCNJ11) led to sucrose-dependent toxicity. Tissue-specific knockdown of the HHEX ortholog dHHEX (CG7056) directed metabolic defects and enhanced lethality; for example, fat-body-specific loss of dHHEX led to increased hemolymph glucose and reduced insulin sensitivity.


Candidate genes identified in human genetic studies of metabolic traits can be prioritized and functionally characterized using a simple Drosophila approach. To our knowledge, this is the first large-scale effort to study the functional interaction between GWAS-identified candidate genes and an environmental risk factor such as diet in a model organism system.

Genome-wide association study; Drosophila melanogaster; Diabetes mellitus, type 2; Hyperglycemia; Dyslipidemias; Phylogeny; Reverse genetics; High-throughput screening assays; HHEX protein, Human