In a Salk Institute-led study, researchers were able to provide some of the fat-burning effects of exercise to sedentary mice with an orally given drug, a benefit for use in people.
Salk Institute scientists, building on earlier work that identified a gene pathway triggered by running, have discovered how to fully activate that pathway in sedentary mice with a chemical compound, mimicking the beneficial effects of exercise, including increased fat burning and stamina.
The study, appearing in Cell Metabolism, not only deepens our understanding of aerobic endurance, but also offers people with heart conditions, pulmonary disease, type 2 diabetes or other health limitations the hope of achieving those benefits pharmacologically.
"It's well known that people can improve their aerobic endurance through training," said senior author Ronald Evans. "The question for us was: how does endurance work? And if we really understand the science, can we replace training with a drug?"
Developing endurance means being able to sustain an aerobic activity for longer periods of time. As people become more fit, their muscles shift from burning carbohydrates (glucose) to burning fat. So researchers assumed that endurance is a function of the body's increasing ability to burn fat, though details of the process have been murky.
Although the lab's studies have been in mice, pharmaceutical companies are interested in using the research to develop clinical trials for humans. The team can envision a number of therapeutic applications for a prescription drug based on a chemical compound called GW1516 (GW), from increasing fat burning in people suffering from obesity or type 2 diabetes to improving patients' fitness before and after surgery.