Objective: Fibroblast growth factor (FGF)-21 improves insulin sensitivity and lipid metabolism in obese or diabetic animal models, while human studies revealed increased FGF-21 levels in obesity and type 2 diabetes. Given that FGF-21 has been suggested to be a peroxisome proliferator-activator receptor (PPAR) alpha-dependent regulator of fasting metabolism, we hypothesized that free fatty acids (FFAs), natural agonists of PPARalpha, might modify FGF-21 levels.
Research design and methods: The effect of fatty acids on FGF-21 was investigated in vitro in HepG2 cells. Within a randomized controlled trial, the effects of elevated FFAs were studied in 21 healthy subjects (13 women and 8 men). Within a clinical trial including 17 individuals, the effect of insulin was analyzed using an hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp and the effect of PPARgamma activation was studied subsequently in a rosiglitazone treatment trial over 8 weeks.
Results: Oleate and linoleate increased FGF-21 expression and secretion in a PPARalpha-dependent fashion, as demonstrated by small-interfering RNA-induced PPARalpha knockdown, while palmitate had no effect. In vivo, lipid infusion induced an increase of circulating FGF-21 in humans, and a strong correlation between the change in FGF-21 levels and the change in FFAs was observed. An artificial hyperinsulinemia, which was induced to delineate the potential interaction between elevated FFAs and hyperinsulinemia, revealed that hyperinsulinemia also increased FGF-21 levels in vivo, while rosiglitazone treatment had no effect.
Conclusions: The results presented here offer a mechanism explaining the induction of the metabolic regulator FGF-21 in the fasting situation but also in type 2 diabetes and obesity.