Research highlight

Targeting inflammation to treat obesity and diabetes

Nature Medicine

February 11, 2013

The drug amlexanox, which is currently used to treat asthma in Japan and open sores in the mouth in the US, may be beneficial in treating obesity and type 2 diabetes in mice, according to study published this week in Nature Medicine.

Obesity is often associated with a state of low-grade inflammation, which is believed to contribute to insulin resistance and the development of type 2 diabetes. Using a large-scale in vitro chemical screen Alan Saltiel and colleagues now identify small molecule inhibitors of IKK-epsilon and a highly related kinase called TBK1. One of these inhibitors includes amlexanox, which they show is a relatively selective inhibitor of these two kinases. They also report that amlexanox produced reversible weight loss in a dietary and a genetic mouse model of obesity through an increase in energy expenditure. Further, the drug improved the insulin sensitivity and reversed fatty liver disease in these mice, even before a change in weight. These effects were associated with a reduction in adipose tissue inflammation and seemed to depend on the expression of IKK-epsilon and TBK1.

Amlexanox has a long history of use in people and with a good safety record. Although future clinical studies are needed, repurposing of the drug to treat obesity and its metabolic complications may be a valid option in the clinic.

doi: 10.1038/nm.3082

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