Could a pill to strengthen muscle and bone replace exercise?

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Scientists are getting closer to finding solutions to muscle and bone loss. Jonathan Knowles/Getty Images
  • Physical activity is known to promote bone and muscle health.
  • Aging, lifestyle and chronic diseases can lead to physical inactivity, which is associated with bone and muscle loss.
  • New research has now identified a drug that can mimic physical exercise in mice.
  • The new drug, called Locamidazole, can increase bone formation, mineral density, muscle thickness and muscle strength in mice.

When we are physically active, our bones and muscles work together to make them stronger. To maintain bone health, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends a combination of weight-bearing activity 3 to 5 times per week and resistance exercise 2 to 3 times per week.

Research has revealed lifelong physical activity to maintain bone health, and a reduction on Physical exertion leads to bone loss. That CDC advocates regular physical activity to strengthen and maintain muscles and bones, research has shown that improving muscle strength can have a modest effect in relieving joint pain for people with arthrosis.

Despite its advantages, modern life is associated with a lack of physical activity. According to that World Health OrganizationPhysical inactivity is a serious but “inadequately addressed public health problem” with up to 85% of the world’s population leading a sedentary lifestyle.

Inactivity is also associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases. The British Heart Foundation attributes more than 5 million deaths to physical inactivity worldwide, accounting for one in nine deaths overall.

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Chronic illness, injury, and aging can make it harder to exercise, which can lead to muscle weakness (sarcopenia) and bone loss (osteoporosis).

New research conducted at Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU) has identified a new drug that can mimic exercise and promote similar changes in muscles and bones.

The work, led by Professor Tomoki Nakashima, was published in bone research.

In which to learnThe research team identified a new compound called locamidazole (LAMZ) as a potential therapeutic drug that can produce effects similar to exercise.

To test the new compound, the researchers gave male mice either 10 mg/kg of LAMZ orally once a day, 6 mg/kg of LAMZ by injection twice a day, or a control solution for 14 days.

Oral administration of LAMZ and by injection revealed changes in both muscle and bone. The researchers found that the treated mice had wider muscle fibers and increased muscle strength compared to the mice not treated with LAMZ.

Endurance was assessed using a treadmill, mice treated with LAMZ were less fatigued and walked a longer distance than non-treated mice.

In conversation with medical news today, dr Joseph Watso, an assistant professor at Florida State University who was not involved in the study, explained:

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“It is worrying that while the changes in distance traveled by the animals were small (about 2%), the increases in adjusted maximum muscle strength and muscle fiber width after 14 days of LAMZ administration were quite substantial.

Using genetic analysis, the researchers showed that LAMZ increases the number of mitochondria – the cell’s powerhouses – in muscle and bone cells. They found increased expression of the gene for PGC-1 alpha, a protein known to maintain muscle and bone cells and increase mitochondrial production.

“PCG1a is a known transcriptional coactivator that increases mitochondrial biogenesis. This is an interesting feature of the compound they identified, as mitochondrial biogenesis is a characteristic physiological adaptation of exercise,” explained Dr. Watso MNT.

To further understand the pathway, the researchers orally administered LAMZ to mice while blocking PGC-1 alpha. They found no increase in muscle strength, indicating the effect of LAMZ on muscle and bone by PGC-1 alpha.

3D images of bone samples created using micro-CT showed an increase in bone thickness, density and bone mineral content, confirming the cell study results of increased formation and a reduction in bone loss.

“We were pleased to find that mice treated with LAMZ had greater muscle fiber width, greater maximal muscle strength, higher rate of bone formation, and lower bone resorption activity,” commented study lead author Takehito Ono.

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The study demonstrated that LAMZ can strengthen bones and muscles without adversely affecting surrounding tissues and act as a therapeutic drug by reviving muscles and bones via PGC-1α and mimicking exercise.

dr Watso summarized the results:

“The article provides compelling animal evidence for an agent with high potential to improve bone and muscle health. As with most drugs studied in animals, the next key question is whether these findings translate to humans. Of course without harmful side effects that may not have been observed in animal experiments.”

He warned: “It will be an arduous task to develop a health elixir to replace the myriad benefits of regular physical activity and exercise. However, further efforts are needed to reduce the incidence and burden of preventable diseases.”

In certain cases, medication may be the safer option than exercise, but when possible, “exercise should be the first consideration for those who can be physically active,” said Dr. Watso.

Despite this, “it is certainly worth continuing to examine population-specific risk factors and pathophysiology for potential treatment targets,” he added.

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