Woman picking up migraine drug in supermarket in order to try lose weight
© Tero Vesalainen

Triptans, a commonly prescribed class of migraine drugs, can help with weight loss and treating obesity by suppressing appetite

The study suggests that a commonly prescribed class of migraine drugs called Triptans may also be useful in helping individuals to lose weight and treat obesity.

In studies on obese mice, a daily dose of the migraine drug led animals to eat less food and lose weight over the course of a month, it was reported.

Scientists at UT Southwestern published the findings in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Woman binge eating popcorn whilst watching TV
© Yuri Arcurs

‘There is real potential to repurpose these drugs… safe for appetite suppression and weight loss’

“We’ve shown that there is real potential to repurpose these drugs, which are already known to be safe, for appetite suppression and weight loss,” says study leader Chen Liu, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Neuroscience and an investigator in the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute.

More than 41% of all adults in the U.S. are obese. Obesity significantly increases a person’s risks of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain types of cancer, and even depression and so the news of a new drug to help suppress appetite will be welcome news for many.

Treating obesity generally focuses around improving eating habits and physical activity – but the migraine drug offers a scientific alternative.

Woman jogging in effort to lose weight
© Jetsam86

Serotonin, a chemical messenger found throughout the brain and body, plays a key role in appetite. But there are 15 different types of serotonin receptors and therefore researchers have struggled to understand the role of each serotonin receptor in appetite.

This means that previous drugs that targeted certain individual receptors, including fen-phen and lorcaserin (Belviq), have been withdrawn from the market due to side effects.

However, Triptans, which work by targeting a different receptor – the serotonin 1B receptor (Htr1b) – had not previously been well studied in the context of appetite and weight loss, explains Dr. Liu.

Triptans can result in significant weight loss in less than a month

For this study, researchers tested six prescription Triptans in obese mice that were fed a high-fat diet for seven weeks.

Mice fed two of these Triptans drugs ate roughly the same amount, whereas mice fed the other four ate less. After 24 days, mice given a daily dose of the drug frovatriptan lost an average of 3.6% of their body weight. Mice who were not given Triptans gained an average of 5.1% of their body weight.

Dr. Liu and his colleagues saw similar results when they implanted devices into the animals that gave them a steady dose of frovatriptan for 24 days.

“We found that these drugs, and one in particular, can lower body weight and improve glucose metabolism in less than a month, which is pretty impressive,” says Dr. Liu.

Normally Triptans is prescribed for short-term use during migraines so patients would not have noticed the longer-term impacts on appetite and weight in the past.

Triptans cause weight loss by targeting the serotonin 1B receptor

To determine exactly how frovatriptan impacts food intake and weight, the researchers engineered mice to lack either Htr1b or Htr2c. In mice without Htr1b, frovatriptan no longer could decrease appetite or cause weight loss, while cutting out Htr2c had no effect. This provided confirmation that the drug worked by targeting the serotonin 1B receptor.

“This finding could be important for drug development,” states Dr. Liu. “We not only shed light on the potential to repurpose existing triptans but also brought attention to Htr1b as a candidate to treat obesity and regulate food intake.”

The team demonstrated precisely which neurons in the brain were most important for the role of Htr1b in mediating appetite, homing in on a small group of cells within the brain’s hypothalamus.


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