FNDC5 (fibronectin domain-containing [protein] 5) was initially discovered and characterized by two groups in 2002. In 2011 FNDC5 burst into prominence as the parent of irisin, a small protein containing the fibronectin type III domain. Irisin was proposed to be secreted by skeletal muscle cells in response to exercise, and to circulate to fat tissue where it induced a transition to brown fat. Since brown fat results in dissipation of energy, this pathway is of considerable interest for metabolism and obesity. Here I review the original discoveries of FNDC5 and the more recent discovery of irisin. I note in particular three problems in the characterization of irisin: the antibodies used to detect irisin in plasma lack validity; the recombinant protein used to demonstrate activity in cell culture was severely truncated; and the degree of shedding of soluble irisin from the cell surface has not been quantitated. The original discovery proposing that FNDC5 may be a transmembrane receptor may deserve a new look.
Keywords: FNDC5; brown adipocyte; exercise; fibronectin; irisin.