© Aleksandra Krolik on behalf of EMBL
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The future of medical care lies – at least in the ideal case – in personalized medicine. The products should be tailored to the individual patient, which is why most studies to date have concentrated on adapting treatments to the genetic composition of a person (genotype). In most diseases, however, the environment plays a greater role than the patient’s genome. Only a few rare diseases are definitely genetic.

“In the case of pathological overweight, for example, only about 6% of the variation in the body mass index can be explained by the genetics involved”, said Peer Bork from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg. “The proteotype not only reflects genetics, but also environmental aspects such as lifestyle. Therefore, the understanding of proteotype has great potential when it comes to the generation of lifestyle-related fingerprints in individuals.”

Brook and his colleagues at EMBL have discovered in an animal study that the totality of proteins in a cell – also known as proteomes – is strongly influenced by both the sex of the animal and its diet. The understanding of these individual proteomes could in future form the basis for personalized treatment in humans.

The aim of the study was to understand whether different proteins within the proteome interact in the same way in different individuals and, if not, which factors cause the differences.

… explains first author Natalie Romanov, postdoctoral researcher in Peer Bork’s group. When investigating the individual proteomes – the proteotypes – the scientists came to a surprising conclusion: around 12% of the proteotype variation – far more than expected – was determined both by the sex of the animal and by its diet.

Until now, it has been assumed in science that only few proteins are influenced by the genetic sex or the diet of an animal – such as the gender-specific differences, which are usually due to the X/Y-specific gene expression of the sex chromosomes. According to the new study, however, many more proteins are affected than previously assumed. “It is impressive that these two factors alone make up a large part of an individual’s proteotype”, said Romanov. However, the effects of diet are much smaller, affecting only a smaller, complementary set of proteins.

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Proteotype-Driven Personalized Medicine

The findings of the Heidelberg researchers’ study could be of great importance in human medicine not only for the diagnosis of diseases but also for the individualization of therapies. They are seen by physicians as a milestone in understanding which cellular changes in a sick person can potentially be reversed by a change in lifestyle.


“The results are just a first step. It can be assumed that many other parameters besides gender and nutrition need to be fully tested in order to transform an individual’s proteotype from a diseased to a healthier condition”, said Martin Beck, one of the co-authors. “In order to understand most differences in individual proteotypes, many more such data sets need to be collected. We also need to test for many more environmental and genetic factors before appropriate diagnostics and individualized therapies can be brought to clinics.”

The results of the study were published in the scientific journal cell.com.

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