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Open Access Commentary

Epigenetics and obesity: the devil is in the details

Paul W Franks12* and Charlotte Ling1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Clinical Sciences, Skåne University Hospital, Lund University, Malmö, Sweden

2 Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA

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BMC Medicine 2010, 8:88  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-8-88

Published: 21 December 2010

Abstract

Obesity is a complex disease with multiple well-defined risk factors. Nevertheless, susceptibility to obesity and its sequelae within obesogenic environments varies greatly from one person to the next, suggesting a role for gene × environment interactions in the etiology of the disorder. Epigenetic regulation of the human genome provides a putative mechanism by which specific environmental exposures convey risk for obesity and other human diseases and is one possible mechanism that underlies the gene × environment/treatment interactions observed in epidemiological studies and clinical trials. A study published in BMC Medicine this month by Wang et al. reports on an examination of DNA methylation in peripheral blood leukocytes of lean and obese adolescents, comparing methylation patterns between the two groups. The authors identified two genes that were differentially methylated, both of which have roles in immune function. Here we overview the findings from this study in the context of those emerging from other recent genetic and epigenetic studies, discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the study and speculate on the future of epigenetics in chronic disease research.

See research article: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/8/87/abstract webcite