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A new study on Japanese men has identified an uncharacteristic genetic variant and its mechanism that puts carriers at risk of Type II diabetes (T2D). Interestingly, the effect of the genetic variant was more common in sedentary men, whereby those who had the variant are 65% more likely to have T2D.

Mitochondrial gene variant increases T2D diabetes risk

University of Southern California researchers and their colleagues from Japan led by Juntendo University’s Professor Noriyuki Fuku conducted the study. The researchers established a higher harmful belly fat rate and T2D among Japanese men with a particular mitochondrial gene variant. Notable the gene variant, in mitochondrial peptide MOTS-c, is prevalent in the East Asia population. According to human and mice study models, the variant can prevent normal MOTS-c production. Equally, it diminishes the beneficial action the exercise-mimicking peptide performs to prevent weight gain and normalize metabolism. Also, the carriers of this deleterious variant secreted a lot of a bio-inactive peptide form to compensate for its deficiency.

The study published in the Aging journal also suggests that one can offset the increased risk the variant allele poses by engaging in moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. According to the researchers, this highlights the significance of gene-environment interactions and underpins the vital role physical activity can play in preventing T2D.

Physical activity can reduce the risk of T2D

Su-Jeong Kim, USC Leonard Davis School research assistant professor, said that the study indicates that individuals having this specific gene variant can modify the genetic risk through exercise. Kim added that more insight into the effect of the genetic variation will offer a basis for creating physical activity strategies.

Most importantly, this study also explains T2D’s commonness in East Asian populations. It is important to note that around 7% to 10% of the East Asian population has this gene variant. According to the researchers, these results are generalizable to other populations such as Northern Chinese and Koreans. Notably, the International Diabetes Federation indicates that around 40% of the T2D cases globally are from Japan, China, and Korea.