Mice with mutations of the ob gene are extremely obese, and the human homologue (OB) has been cloned and physically mapped. The protein product of the ob gene (leptin) reduces body fat in mice when given exogenously, and leptin has been proposed to provide a lipostatic signal that regulates adiposity. Variation in the OB gene may be one genetically determined cause of obesity in human populations. To test this hypothesis, we genotyped siblings from 78 families at markers flanking the human OB gene. Pairs of siblings with extreme obesity (BMI ≥ 40; n = 59) shared haplotypes identical-by-descent for the region containing the OB gene at greater than chance levels (corrected P = 0.04). Furthermore, one haplotype containing the OB gene was transmitted by heterozygous parents to extremely obese (BMI ≥40) offspring more frequently than expected by chance, indicting significant allelic disequilibrium (corrected P = 0.027). One explanation for these linkage findings is that some individuals with extreme obesity have an allelic variant of the OB gene, although other nearby genes could contribute to obesity in these families.

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