One of the genes is also associated with type 2 diabetes, which helps to explain why small babies have higher rates of diabetes in later life.
The research published in the journal Nature Genetics is the first robust evidence that a well-known link between lower birth weight and susceptibility to type 2 diabetes has a genetic component. The team analyzed the genomes of over 38,000 Europeans from 19 studies of pregnancy and birth. Two genetic variants showed strong associations with birth weight. One of the variants, in a gene called ADCY5, has recently been linked with susceptibility to type 2 diabetes. Individuals who inherit two risk copies of this variant are at a 25 per cent higher risk of diabetes in adulthood than those who inherit two non-risk copies. This is a key finding because it has long been known that babies that weigh less are more at risk of type 2 diabetes in adulthood, but it was not clear why. Much research has focused on the role of the womb environment. It is widely believed that the mother’s nutrition can influence both the growth of the baby and its later risk of disease, a process known as ‘programming’. However, this latest research confirms that genes are also important. It was a surprise to see such strong genetic effects for a characteristic which is subject to powerful influences from so many environmental factors.
Dr. Rachel Freathy as first author from Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, commented: ‘Our study shows that genes are part of the reason why babies born with a lower birth weight are more at risk of type 2 diabetes 50 or 60 years later. It is important for us now to establish how much of the association is due to our genes and how much is due to the environment because this will inform how we target efforts to prevent the disease.’
Source: Press release University of Oxford, April 7th 2010: More…
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