Genetic disruption of uncoupling protein 1 in mice renders brown adipose tissue a significant source of FGF21 secretion

Frauke Neff, Rebecca Oelkrug


Objective: Circulating fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) is an important auto- and endocrine player with beneficial metabolic effects on obesity and diabetes. In humans, thermogenic brown adipose tissue (BAT) was recently suggested as a source of FGF21 secretion during cold exposure. Here, we aim to clarify the role of UCP1 and ambient temperature in the regulation of FGF21 in mice. Methods: Wildtype (WT) and UCP1-knockout (UCP1 KO) mice, the latter being devoid of BAT-derived non-shivering thermogenesis, were exposed to different housing temperatures. Plasma metabolites and FGF21 levels were determined, gene expression was analyzed by qPCR, and tissue histology was performed with adipose tissue. Results: At thermoneutrality, FGF21 gene expression and serum levels were not different between WT and UCP1 KO mice. Cold exposure led to highly increased FGF21 serum levels in UCP1 KO mice, which were reflected in increased FGF21 gene expression in adipose tissues but not in liver and skeletal muscle. Ex vivo secretion assays revealed FGF21 release only from BAT, progressively increasing with decreasing ambient temperatures. In association with increased FGF21 serum levels in the UCP1 KO mouse, typical FGF21-related serum metabolites and inguinal white adipose tissue morphology and thermogenic gene expression were altered. Conclusions: Here we show that the genetic ablation of UCP1 increases FGF21 gene expression in adipose tissue. The removal of adaptive nonshivering thermogenesis renders BAT a significant source of endogenous FGF21 under thermal stress. Thus, the thermogenic competence of BAT is not a requirement for FGF21 secretion. Notably, high endogenous FGF21 levels in UCP1-deficient models and subjects may confound pharmacological FGF21 treatments.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Metabolism
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)537-542
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 01.07.2015


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