Gene expression profile of subcutaneous adipose tissue in BMI-discordant monozygotic twin pairs unravels molecular and clinical changes associated with sub-types of obesity

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Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) undergoes major changes in obesity, but little is known about the whole-genome scale patterns of these changes or about their variation between different obesity sub-groups. We sought to compare how transcriptomics profiles in SAT differ between monozygotic (MZ) co-twins who are discordant for body mass index (BMI), whether the profiles vary between twin pairs and whether the variation can be linked to clinical characteristics.

METHODS:

We analysed the transcriptomics (Affymetrix U133 Plus 2.0) patterns of SAT in young MZ twin pairs (n = 26, intra-pair difference in BMI > 3 kg m-2, aged 23-36), from 10 birth cohorts of adult Finnish twins. The clinical data included measurements of body composition, insulin resistance, lipids and adipokines.

RESULTS:

We found 2108 genes differentially expressed (false discovery rate (FDR) < 0.05) in SAT of the BMI-discordant pairs. Pathway analyses of these genes revealed a significant downregulation of mitochondrial oxidative pathways (P < 0.05) and upregulation of inflammation pathways (P < 0.05). Hierarchical clustering of heavy/lean twin ratios, representing effects of acquired obesity in the transcriptomics data, revealed three sub-groups with different molecular profiles (FDR < 0.05). Analyses comparing these sub-groups showed that, in the heavy co-twins, downregulation of the mitochondrial pathways, especially that of branched chain amino acid degradation was more evident in two clusters while and upregulation of the inflammatory response was most evident in the last, presumably the unhealthiest cluster. High-fasting insulin levels and large adipocyte diameter were the predominant clinical characteristic of the heavy co-twins in this cluster (Bonferroni-adjusted P < 0.05).

CONCLUSIONS:

This is the first study in BMI-discordant MZ twin pairs reporting sub-types of obesity based on both SAT gene expression profiles and clinical traits. We conclude that a decrease in mitochondrial BCAA degradation and an increase in inflammation in SAT co-occur and associate with hyperinsulinemia and large adipocyte size in unhealthy obesity.

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