Researchers discover hormone that mimics diabetes-preventing effects of exercise

A newly-discovered hormone has been found to mimic some of the benefits of exercise – although more muscle isn't one of them (Photo: Shutterstock)

All manner of weird and wonderful exercise contraptions pushed on late night infomercials are testament to people's desire for faster and easier ways to get the benefits of exercise – whether said contraptions are effective or not. But now researchers have discovered a hormone that could provide some of the benefits of exercise, without working up a sweat doing stomach crunches or bicep curls.

The newly-discovered hormone, called MOTS-c, was injected into mice fed a high-fat diet. Primarily targeting muscle tissue, the hormone was found to suppress both obesity and resistance to insulin. Furthermore, the hormone was also found to reverse age-dependent insulin-resistance, which typically precedes the onset of diabetes.

The scientists say that MOTS-c is unique among hormones as, unlike other hormones that are encoded in DNA in the nucleus, it is encoded in the DNA of mitochondria – organelles found in nearly all eukaryotic cells that provide chemical energy to the cell.

With its ability to counteract both diet-induced and age-dependent diabetes, the researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the National Institutes of Health believe the hormone could pave the way for new treatments for diabetes and other age-related diseases. Unfortunately, it probably won't help you put on muscle.

"This discovery sheds new light on mitochondria and positions them as active regulators of metabolism," says Changhan Lee, assistant professor at USC Davis and lead author of the study.

The researchers point out that, although MOTS-c experiments have so far only been conducted on mice, all of the molecular mechanisms that make it function exist in all mammals. Intellectual property relating to MOTS-c has been licensed to a biotech company, with clinical trials on humans potentially beginning within three years.

The team's research appears in the journal Cell Metabolism.

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