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Fighting Obesity with Bacteria?

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A drug that appears to target specific intestinal bacteria in the guts of mice may create a chain reaction that could eventually lead to new treatments for obesity and diabetes in humans, according to a team of researchers.

Mice fed a high-fat diet and provided tempol, an antioxidant drug that may help protect people from the effects of radiation, were significantly less obese than those that did not receive the drug, noted Andrew Patterson, assistant professor of molecular toxicology.

"The two interesting findings are that the mice that received tempol didn’t gain as much weight, and the tempol somehow impacted the gut microbiome of these mice," said Patterson. The microbiome is the biological environment of microorganisms within the body.

"Eventually, we hope that this can lead to a new line of therapeutics to treat obesity and diabetes," he said.

The researchers said that tempol reduces some members of bacteria in the genus Lactobacillus in the guts of mice. When the Lactobacillus levels decrease, a particular bile acid increases. This, in turn, inhibits a receptor that regulates the metabolism of bile acids, fats, and glucose in the body.

The study suggests that inhibiting this receptor in the intestine might be a potential target for anti-obesity drugs, the scientists said. But the tempol-treated mice on a high-fat diet also had lower blood glucose and insulin levels, suggesting that tempol may help treat type 2 diabetes symptoms as well.

Patterson said the research demonstrates how integrated the 100 trillion microbes that make up the human microbiome are with metabolism and health and how the microbiome may provide more pathways to treating other disorders.

"There is a tremendous interest in how the microbiome can be manipulated in a therapeutic way," he said.

The work was supported by the Center for Cancer Research, National Institutes of Health, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, using Tobacco CURE funds.

Matthew Swayne