Valproic acid may be a very useful drug. Recent news suggests that the drug may have a role in improving learning and treating mood disorders. Another study now suggests that the drug may have another previously undiscovered use. It may help treat obesity.
The new study was conducted at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, US. Study findings were published in January’s edition of Molecular Pharmacology. The Johns Hopkins team were studying the way in which a group of enzymes – the ‘cytochrome P450 family’ – processes valproic acid.
It appeared that the drug activates a protein called AMPK. AMPK is an established target for drugs that treat metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes and obesity. In laboratory animals, the research team found that valproic acid reduced fat accumulation in the liver and lowered blood sugar levels.
Interestingly, scientists further discovered that these particular benefits of the epilepsy drug didn’t come directly from the drug itself. AMPK was not activated by the valproic acid – the activation came from the byproducts of the drug.
To test this, scientists created four chemically modified versions of valproic acid and added them to both mouse and human liver cells. In both types of cell, AMPK was still activated without valproic acid. In fact, they reported a higher activation of AMPK at one fortieth of the original dose of the epilepsy drug.
This may mean that a treatment for obesity can be developed using a chemical developed from valproic acid but taken at a fraction of the dose. This should mean that the eventual treatment would have fewer side-effects compared with the current epilepsy treatment. Research continues.