Selective and membrane-permeable small molecule inhibitors of nicotinamide N-methyltransferase reverse high fat diet-induced obesity in mice

Harshini Neelakantan, Virginia Vance, Michael D. Wetzel, Hua Yu Leo Wang, Stanton F. McHardy, Celeste C. Finnerty, Jonathan D. Hommel, Stanley J. Watowich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


There is a critical need for new mechanism-of-action drugs that reduce the burden of obesity and associated chronic metabolic comorbidities. A potentially novel target to treat obesity and type 2 diabetes is nicotinamide-N-methyltransferase (NNMT), a cytosolic enzyme with newly identified roles in cellular metabolism and energy homeostasis. To validate NNMT as an anti-obesity drug target, we investigated the permeability, selectivity, mechanistic, and physiological properties of a series of small molecule NNMT inhibitors. Membrane permeability of NNMT inhibitors was characterized using parallel artificial membrane permeability and Caco-2 cell assays. Selectivity was tested against structurally-related methyltransferases and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) salvage pathway enzymes. Effects of NNMT inhibitors on lipogenesis and intracellular levels of metabolites, including NNMT reaction product 1-methylnicotianamide (1-MNA) were evaluated in cultured adipocytes. Effects of a potent NNMT inhibitor on obesity measures and plasma lipid were assessed in diet-induced obese mice fed a high-fat diet. Methylquinolinium scaffolds with primary amine substitutions displayed high permeability from passive and active transport across membranes. Importantly, methylquinolinium analogues displayed high selectivity, not inhibiting related SAM-dependent methyltransferases or enzymes in the NAD+ salvage pathway. NNMT inhibitors reduced intracellular 1-MNA, increased intracellular NAD+ and S-(5′-adenosyl)-L-methionine (SAM), and suppressed lipogenesis in adipocytes. Treatment of diet-induced obese mice systemically with a potent NNMT inhibitor significantly reduced body weight and white adipose mass, decreased adipocyte size, and lowered plasma total cholesterol levels. Notably, administration of NNMT inhibitors did not impact total food intake nor produce any observable adverse effects. These results support development of small molecule NNMT inhibitors as therapeutics to reverse diet-induced obesity and validate NNMT as a viable target to treat obesity and related metabolic conditions. Increased flux of key cellular energy regulators, including NAD+ and SAM, may potentially define the therapeutic mechanism-of-action of NNMT inhibitors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-152
Number of pages12
JournalBiochemical Pharmacology
StatePublished - Jan 2018


  • Inhibitors
  • Nicotinamide N-methyltransferase
  • Obesity
  • Therapeutics
  • Weight loss

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Pharmacology


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