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Sports Medicine Feature

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Exercise Pill Causes Mice to Run for Salk Scientists

Biloine W. Young • Fri, May 12th, 2017

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Scientists at the Salk Institute gave sedentary mice a pill containing a chemical compound that mimics the beneficial effects of exercise.

To their amazement, the mice who took the pill ran on a treadmill for 270 minutes. That was 70% longer than did mice who had not been given the pill.

Ronald M. Evans, Ph.D., senior author of the mice study, said, “It would take a lot of diligent training, every single day, to get that benefit. And these mice are getting it just because we’re feeding them a drug that’s reprogramming their metabolic properties.”

The key appears to be a gene called PPAR Delta (PPARD). When the PPARD genes in the mice were turned on, the mice could run for long distances without becoming exhausted. They were also resistant to weight gain and were responsive to insulin. The researchers said that the mice who took the pill had the properties of people who are physically fit.

The Salk scientists first developed a compound that they called GW1516. It appeared to activate the PPARD gene, but it did not incentivize the mice to run on their own.

The animals still had to train to be able to run long distances.

So the scientists doubled the dose of GW1516 and gave it to the mice for 8 weeks instead of just 4.

That did it. The mice began to run.

To find out what was happening at a genetic level they looked at 975 genes that seemed to change in response to GW1516. They found that the genes that became active were the ones involved in burning fat, while the genes that were suppressed were instrumental in turning carbohydrates into energy. They concluded that “PPARD is suppressing sugar metabolism in muscle, so glucose can be redirected to the brain.”

The Salk studies are designed to deal with the management of obesity, diabetes and other metabolic disorders. As for the exercise-in-a-pill idea, Evans’ team envisions “a prescription drug to help people with obesity or type 2 diabetes burn fat, and to make it easier for patients to become fit before or after surgery.”

The journal Cell Metabolism has published the research.

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