Scientists Identify Molecule That Cuts Appetite, Lowers Obesity in Mice; Could Help Develop ‘Workout Pill’

Physical exercise offers a wide range of benefits for the human body. Scientists might now be closer to figuring out how to deliver the benefits of exercise in just a single pill. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine have identified a molecule produced after an intense regimen of physical exercise, which is responsible for reducing both food intake and obesity in mice. Understanding how these physiological processes work could one day help in the development of a medication for people unable to get enough exercise.

“Regular exercise has been proven to help weight loss, regulate appetite and improve the metabolic profile, especially for people who are overweight and obese,” said co-corresponding author Dr. Yong Xu, Professor, Associate Director for Basic Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine. “If we can understand the mechanism by which exercise triggers these benefits, then we are closer to helping many people improve their health,” he added.

“We wanted to understand how exercise works at the molecular level to be able to capture some of its benefits,” said Dr. Jonathan Long, co-author of the study which was published in Nature on June 15.

Citing a potential benefit of the research, he explained, “For example, older or frail people who cannot exercise enough, may one day benefit from taking a medication that can help slow down osteoporosis, heart disease or other conditions.” 

Scientists at the Baylor College of Medicine and Stanford School of Medicine conducted an analysis of blood plasma compounds from mice, following an intense regimen of physical exercise. The researchers identified a modified amino acid called Lac-Phe, which prompted a reduction in food intake by over 50 percent in a 12-hour period. When administered to the mice, Lac-Phe resulted in lowered caloric intake and reduced body weight over a 10-day period.

The scientists will now study how Lac-Phe mediates its effects in the body, including the brain, according to Xu. “Our goal is to learn to modulate this exercise pathway for therapeutic interventions,” he added.

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