Drugs turn ‘couch potato’ mice into long-distance runners

Just in time for the Olympics, scientists say they have discovered drugs that could cause the next athletic doping scandal.

In a study published today in the journal Cell1, scientists say they have found the first targeted drugs that boost endurance. They are already working with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to develop tests to expose would-be cheats who use the drugs.

The scientists examined the effects of two compounds, called GW1516 and AICAR, on endurance in mice. When dosed with GW1516 and exercised on a treadmill every day for five weeks, the mice could run about 68% longer and 70% farther than mice that underwent the same training programme but didn’t receive the drug, the scientists found. When given daily doses of AICAR, but no exercise training, another set of mice could run 23% longer and 44% farther than untreated mice.

The AICAR-treated mice also lost fat and had boosted expression of genes involved in making energy — similar to the beneficial effects induced by exercise, according to Ronald Evans of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in La Jolla, California, who led the work.

The compound resveratrol, found in red wine, also boosts endurance in mice, but acts on many molecules and therefore has many other effects. Evans says his work is the first to target a specific molecular pathway to mimic the effects of endurance exercise. “We have discovered that there’s a switch that can be flipped to unlock a little bit more potential out of your muscles and give yourself a chance to be in a much more healthy state,” Evans says, calling the study “the true couch potato experiment”.

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Finally, man. More fitness will help us survive our working days.

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