Enzyme could help fight against mid-life obesity and fitness loss

National Institutes of Health discovery of enzyme in mice could lead to new class of medications to fight mid-life obesity

A team of scientists led by researchers from the National Institutes of Health has identified an enzyme that could help in the continuous battle against mid-life obesity and fitness loss. The discovery in mice could upend current notions about why people gain weight as they age, and could one day lead to more effective weight-loss medications.

“Our society attributes the weight gain and lack of exercise at mid-life (approximately 30-60 years) primarily to poor lifestyle choices and lack of will power, but this study shows that there is a genetic program driven by an overactive enzyme that promotes weight gain and loss of exercise capacity at mid-life,” said lead study author Jay H. Chung, Ph.D., M.D., head of the Laboratory of Obesity and Aging Research at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of NIH.

Chung and his team used mice to test the potentially key role this enzyme plays in obesity and exercise capacity. They administered an inhibitor that blocked the enzyme in one group being fed high-fat foods, but withheld it in another. The result was a 40 percent decrease in weight gain in the group that received the inhibitor.

The study, the first to link the increased activity of this enzyme to aging and obesity, appears in the current issue of Cell Metabolism. Its findings could have ramifications for several chronic illnesses. With lower rates of obesity, the researchers say, rates of heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases that tend to increase with age, including cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, could fall as well.

Researchers have known for years that losing weight and maintaining the capacity to exercise tend to get harder beginning between ages 30 to 40 — the start of midlife. Scientists have developed new therapies for obesity, including fat-fighting pills. However, many of those therapies have failed because of a lack of understanding about the biological changes that cause middle-aged people to gain weight, particularly around their abdomen.

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