Skeletal muscle atrophy is a common and debilitating condition that lacks a pharmacologic therapy. To develop a potential therapy, we identified 63 mRNAs that were regulated by fasting in both human and mouse muscle, and 29 mRNAs that were regulated by both fasting and spinal cord injury in human muscle. We used these two unbiased mRNA expression signatures of muscle atrophy to query the Connectivity Map, which singled out ursolic acid as a compound whose signature was opposite to those of atrophy-inducing stresses. A natural compound enriched in apples, ursolic acid reduced muscle atrophy and stimulated muscle hypertrophy in mice. It did so by enhancing skeletal muscle insulin/IGF-I signaling and inhibiting atrophy-associated skeletal muscle mRNA expression. Importantly, ursolic acid's effects on muscle were accompanied by reductions in adiposity, fasting blood glucose, and plasma cholesterol and triglycerides. These findings identify a potential therapy for muscle atrophy and perhaps other metabolic diseases.
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