An international team of researchers has harnessed two known metabolic modulators, tobacco smoking and exposure to cold temperatures, to create a potential anti-obesity treatment that in early mouse experiments has successfully lowered body weight and corrected glucose intolerance.

One of the ways our bodies respond to external cold temperatures is by triggering a process call thermogenesis. This mechanism induces heat to keep us warm by instigating the burning of brown adipose tissue, and many anti-obesity researchers are investigating ways to artificially induce thermogenesis as a way to help people lose weight.

However, a side effect of increasing a person's energy expenditure is that it also triggers appetite mechanisms, so any effective anti-obesity treatment will need to also counter this process. Here, the researchers homed in on one of the more well-known metabolic effects of tobacco smoking, appetite suppression.

To induce thermogenesis, the researchers utilized a high-potency small molecule called icilin. Previous research has established that this compound can effectively activate thermogenesis, and studies have shown it can protect mice from diet-induced obesity. In combination with icilin, another compound was investigated to suppress appetite. Dimethylphenylpiperazinium (DMPP) has been found to stimulate the same receptor that nicotine uses to suppress hunger.

In subsequent mouse experiments it was found that this novel combination of compounds worked synergistically to lower body weight, increase energy expenditure and improve glucose intolerance. The researchers call this strategy a "biochemical cigarette," offering certain desired metabolic benefits of tobacco smoking, without any of the negative cardio-vascular effects.

As with many studies like this, it's difficult to predict how transferrable the effects are to human beings. The next stages of the research will be to investigate the safety and efficacy of the approach in humans, but this fascinating research offers new investigational pathways for anti-obesity treatments – adapting some of the more useful metabolic consequences of smoking tobacco into a treatment that may help in the battle against the current obesity epidemic.

The new research was published in the journal Nature Communications.