The investigation reveals how the ATP-sensitive potassium channel in the heart and skeletal muscles affects the balance between food intake and energy used. The study, which was done in animal models, appears in the January issue of the journal Cell Metabolism.
The collaborative study involved lead author Alexey Alekseev, Ph.D., assistant professor at Mayo Clinic, as well as scientists from the University of Connecticut and New York University School of Medicine.
The findings point to a potential pathway through which to manage and prevent obesity, said Leonid Zingman, M.D., senior study author and assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Iowa, who began the research while at Mayo Clinic in the laboratory of Andre Terzic, M.D.
"We were interested in better understanding how energy balance is regulated, and so we focused on the ATP-sensitive potassium channel in muscles," Zingman said. "This ion channel, which is present in many tissues, had been studied extensively, but its role in heart and skeletal muscle function under normal, not stressed, conditions has not been previously understood.
"Our work indicates that the channel limits how certain muscle cells, called myocytes, use energy under normal workload conditions," Zingman added.
When researchers disrupted the channel's function in muscles of mice, the mice used more energy and became lean even while on a high-fat diet. In essence, the mice became resistant to obesity. However, this resistance to obesity was achieved at the cost of reduced endurance.
"Indeed, disrupting the channel made the mice burn more calories even while at rest and also made them less fuel efficient when exercising, and therefore less capable of maintaining physical performance," Zingman said. "Through evolution, living organisms have become energy-saving. They responded to limited food resources and the high energy need to survive by becoming energy efficient.
"But now, with excess food supply and an inactive lifestyle, this energy efficiency is a problem for humans," Zingman added.
The researchers are interested in whether it is possible to interfere with this "biological perfection" to manage obesity without negatively affecting heart and muscle function.