male in a lab
Qing Li

Obesity is one of the most serious public health issues of the 21st century. More than 600 million adults and 100 million children in 200 countries are considered obese.

There are very few safe pharmaceutical interventions, but in a new study from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR ) Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering (MBBE), researchers have taken a small yet solid step toward developing a natural supplement that could reduce obesity.

In the world of natural products, dihydromyricetin (DHM ), also called ampelopsin, is known to exert antidiabetic effects. However, the biochemical target of this isolate from the herbal plant Ampelopsis grossedentata is unknown. For this study, the primary goal of principal investigator and MBBE Professor Qing Li was to identify that biochemical target.

The team, which included C.Y. Hu of the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, as well as several MBBE students and visiting scholars to CTAHR, found that the chemical DHM can reduce lipid droplet formation in adipocytes (cells specialized for the storage of fat, found in connective tissue). They also found DHM has direct interaction with a protein called “78-kDa glucose-regulated protein” (GRP78)—the object of their search.

“It was crucial to identify the biochemical target of DHM, and show how DHM is able to reduce lipid droplet formation in 3T3-L1 cells through a mode of action that is plausibly associated with direct interactions between GRP78 and DHM,” said Li. “Now we can elucidate GRP78’s physiological function and therapeutic value.”

He added, “It is quite exciting because the work shows how ampelopsin works as an anti-obesity agent, and is a step forward in determining potential applications of DHM as an anti-obesity agent. This study brings us a step closer to further development of this natural supplement in the clinical setting for combating obesity.”

The full study appears in The Journal of Nutrition.

This work is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.