Obesity may be kept under check by increasing the number of calories burnt by muscles, new research by scientists from the Mayo Clinic and the University of Iowa suggests.
Researchers experimented on mice to explore the "fuel gauge" in muscles and found new evidence that treatments done to disrupt the sarcolemmal ATP-sensitive K+ (KATP) channels in muscles may help to limit obesity.
Alexey Alekseev of the Mayo Clinic, said: "The channels sense even minor changes in nucleotide energy and respond by shortening the duration of action potentials and limiting energy-demanding muscle contractility and maintenance of ion composition.
"If you don't have the channel, you will consume more energy. The system normally has an energy-saving role, but with a sedentary lifestyle and excess of food, it favors obesity."
Leonid Zingman of the University of Iowa, said: "In some ways it may seem paradoxical to fight against what is a very good system for fueling our muscles with energy efficiency...On the other hand, it's also paradoxical that many of us today have an excessive food supply and we don't need to move."
It was found that the KATP channels, located at the surface of heart and skeletal muscle cells, keep these cells active without spending any more energy than they have to. Animals with lacking KATP channels in skeletal muscles store less glycogen and less fat to become leaner.
The researchers said that "sarcolemmal KATP channels govern muscle energy economy, and their downregulation in a tissue-specific manner could present an anti-obesity strategy by rendering muscle increasingly thermogenic at rest and less fuel efficient during exercise."
Zingman added: "For me, the most surprising thing was how small changes can translate to significant changes with time...Limiting energy consumption by a small fraction with every movement or beat of the heart can add up to a significant change in total energy consumption. Small actions may really make a huge difference."
The study has appeared in the January Cell Metabolism, a Cell ress publication.