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Wayne State receives NIH award to study genetic factors that impact benefit of exercise

July 3, 2017


DETROIT – A team of researchers led by Robert Wessells, Ph.D., assistant professor of physiology in the School of Medicine at Wayne State University, has received a two-year, $423,500 grant from the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health for the project, “Octopamine mediates benefits of endurance exercise in Drosophila.”

Exercise is an important and low-cost treatment that improves metabolic health and protects against age-related diseases. While simple in theory, many people are unable to perform an endurance exercise regimen due to illness, disability, advanced age or a work schedule that enforces sedentary behavior. In addition, humans vary vastly in their response to exercise regimens.

Wessells will use a fruit fly genetic model system to identify the causes of these variances, and will identify novel targets for therapeutic pharmaceuticals that can mimic the benefits of exercise in patients who are unable to complete an exercise program.

“We have discovered that stimulating a particular brain region in the fruit fly for a couple of hours each day can cause them to acquire exercise adaptations without actually exercising,” said Wessells. “By understanding how this works, we can perhaps figure out ways to stimulate the human brain in patients who are disabled or on bed rest to keep their metabolism healthy.”

According to Wessells, the octopaminergic neurons are critical for inducing metabolic adaptations in muscle and fat during exercise. His research has shown that treatment with octopamine is capable of inducing exercise adaptations in sedentary flies. He will work to identify which receptor or receptors are required for octopamine signaling to induce these benefits, and to discover the sex-specific differences in exercise response in flies to identify the genetic variances that cause individual responses to exercise training, as well as provide novel targets for therapeutics to provide the benefits of exercise to sedentary patients.

The project number for this National Institutes of Health grant is AG055712.

About Wayne State University

Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit research.wayne.edu.