Posted on January 7, 2010

Genes May Put Black Americans at Risk for Diabetes

Yahoo! News, January 4, 2010

Inherited genetic variations could explain why blacks develop type 2 diabetes at a higher rate than whites, new research suggests.

“We found gene expression profiles that suggest that carbohydrate metabolism should be different in the African-Americans in our population compared to Caucasians,” Dr. Cam Patterson, chief of cardiology and director of the McAllister Heart Institute at the University of North Carolina, said in a university news release.

That, in turn, could lead to higher rates of diabetes in blacks.


Black people may have developed a different way of metabolizing glucose–sugars–long ago in history, Patterson noted, perhaps when they were living in an environment where there was little food or when diets were very different than they are now.


Stable Patterns of Gene Expression Regulating Carbohydrate Metabolism Determined by Geographic Ancestry

Individuals of African descent in the United States suffer disproportionately from diseases with a metabolic etiology (obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes), and from the pathological consequences of these disorders (hypertension and cardiovascular disease).

Using a combination of genetic/genomic and bioinformatics approaches, we identified a large number of genes that were both differentially expressed between American subjects self-identified to be of either African or European ancestry and that also contained single nucleotide polymorphisms that distinguish distantly related ancestral populations. Several of these genes control the metabolism of simple carbohydrates and are direct targets for the SREBP1, a metabolic transcription factor also differentially expressed between our study populations.

These data support the concept of stable patterns of gene transcription unique to a geographic ancestral lineage. Differences in expression of several carbohydrate metabolism genes suggest both genetic and transcriptional mechanisms contribute to these patterns and may play a role in exacerbating the disproportionate levels of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease observed in Americans with African ancestry.

[Editor’s Note: “Stable Patterns of Gene Expression Regulating Carbohydrate Metabolism Determined by Geographic Ancestry,” by Cam Patterson et al., and related documents, are available here.]