That ultimate fantasy of the couch potato may become a reality some day, according to researchers who have found the chemical pathways that muscle cells use to build strength and endurance.
With this basic knowledge in hand, it now may be possible to develop a pill that pumps up muscle cells without all that exercise, said Dr. R. Sanders Williams, dean of the Duke University of School of Medicine. The main target of the study is to promote the health of people with heart disease or other conditions that keep them from doing enough exercise.
"This could lead to drugs that will let people get the health benefits of regular exercise, even if they cannot exercise," said Williams. This could help patients with heart or lung disease, or lower the risk of Type II diabetes, for instance. "It is possible it could become a drug of abuse because it would enhance the performance of athletes," he said.
In the study, Williams and colleagues created a group of mice with genes that made a surplus of a protein called calmodulin-dependent protein kinase, or CaMK. When this protein is activated, it and another protein, calcineurin, trigger the physical changes that muscle cells undergo after intense exercise.