Scientists at the University of Michigan have found in new research that a naturally occurring protein called Sestrin might explain several benefits linked to exercise.
Published in Nature Communications, the study reveals that this protein mimics a good number of the effects of exercise in flies and mice.
Doctors often advise regular exercise as a key to part to enjoying good health. Many people, however, do not observe this due to a lack of time, inspiration, or energy.
These new findings raise the prospect of people one day being able to enjoy the benefits of exercise by simply taking supplements. They could prove useful for controlling the muscle wasting that results from aging or certain disorders.
“Researchers have previously observed that Sestrin accumulates in muscle following exercise,” said Myungjin Kim, Ph.D., a research assistant professor at Michigan Medicine’s Department of Molecular & Integrative Physiology.
Mimicking exercise effects
The aim of researchers in this study was to unravel the link between Sestrin and exercise. To do this, they fashioned a treadmill for flies to work out with. This idea came from knowledge of the natural instinct of Drosophila flies to climb up and escape from a test tube.
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These flies were trained for three weeks with the aid of the treadmill. The research team then compared the abilities of normal flies to fly and run to those of flies with an inability to produce Sestrin.
The normal flies showed an improvement in their abilities from the training. Those lacking Sestrin, on the other hand, did not see any boost in their abilities with exercise.
Overexpression of the protein in the muscles of healthy flies considerably enhanced their abilities beyond those that were simply trained. This effect persisted even when the flies in the overexpressed group did not do exercise.
Exercise failed to improve endurance further when there is an overexpression of Sestrins, the researchers observed.
Could Sestrin supplements replace exercise?
Scientists found that this protein is not only beneficial because of how it boosts endurance.
Mice that lack it failed to feel benefits, such as fat burning, better aerobic capacity, and enhanced respiration, which come with exercise.
“We propose that Sestrin can coordinate these biological activities by turning on or off different metabolic pathways,” said Professor Jun Hee Lee, Ph.D. “This kind of combined effect is important for producing exercise’s effects.”
Also, in a separate study involving Lee, researchers found that Sestrin can be helpful for guarding against muscle atrophy. It was demonstrated to be potentially useful for checking atrophy in immobilized muscle, such as when using a limb cast.
Lee said this other study further stressed the ability of the protein to replicate many of exercise effects.
The research team indicated, however, that people should not expect Sestrin supplements to become available anytime soon. It is still trying to find small molecule modulators of the proteins, which are not small molecules.
There is also the need to find out in future research how exercise helps the body make Sestrin.