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Recent large-scale genomic association studies found evidence for a genetic link between increased risk of type 2 diabetes and decreased risk for adiposity-related traits, reminiscent of metabolically obese normal weight (MONW) association signatures. However, the target genes and cellular mechanisms driving such MONW associations remain to be identified. Here, we systematically identify the cellular programmes of one of the top-scoring MONW risk loci, the 2q24.3 risk locus, in subcutaneous adipocytes. We identify a causal genetic variant, rs6712203, an intronic single-nucleotide polymorphism in the COBLL1 gene, which changes the conserved transcription factor motif of POU domain, class 2, transcription factor 2, and leads to differential COBLL1 gene expression by altering the enhancer activity at the locus in subcutaneous adipocytes. We then establish the cellular programme under the genetic control of the 2q24.3 MONW risk locus and the effector gene COBLL1, which is characterized by impaired actin cytoskeleton remodelling in differentiating subcutaneous adipocytes and subsequent failure of these cells to accumulate lipids and develop into metabolically active and insulin-sensitive adipocytes. Finally, we show that perturbations of the effector gene Cobll1 in a mouse model result in organismal phenotypes matching the MONW association signature, including decreased subcutaneous body fat mass and body weight along with impaired glucose tolerance. Taken together, our results provide a mechanistic link between the genetic risk for insulin resistance and low adiposity, providing a potential therapeutic hypothesis and a framework for future identification of causal relationships between genome associations and cellular programmes in other disorders.

Original publication




Journal article


Nature metabolism

Publication Date





861 - 879


Institute of Nutritional Medicine, School of Medicine, Technical University of Munich, Munich, Germany.


Adipocytes, Animals, Mice, Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2, Obesity, Body Weight, Actins