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Biological Chemistry

Chemical Fountain Of Youth Explained

Health And Nutrition: Scientists uncover mechanism of how steroidal compounds in apples and green tomatoes relieve age-related muscle atrophy

by Stephen K. Ritter
September 21, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 37

Scientists at the University of Iowa have shown over the past four years that the steroidlike compounds ursolic acid and tomatidine, which are naturally found in apples and in green tomatoes, respectively, boost the growth of human muscle cells in lab cultures and are potent inhibitors of age-related muscle atrophy in mice. The team led by Christopher M. Adams believes the compounds could become valuable medicines or nutritional supplements to help people recover from age-related illnesses and injuries or even help competitive athletes and weekend warriors recover from workouts. The researchers started a biotech company, called Emmyon, to develop commercial opportunities. Adams and his coworkers now report they have pinned down a key detail of the mechanism by which the miracle molecules seem to work (J. Biol. Chem. 2015, DOI: 10.1074/jbc.m115.681445). Studying mice, the researchers identified a protein, the transcription factor ATF4, as the first known mediator of age-related muscle atrophy. They found that ursolic acid or tomatidine induce multiple changes in mRNA levels in muscle, including repressing ATF4-regulated mRNAs. Examining muscle tissue cells, the Iowa team found that reducing ATF4 activity reduces muscle weakness and muscle loss during aging in mice.


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