Obesity is a growing epidemic with limited effective treatments. The neurotrophic factor glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) was recently shown to enhance β-cell mass and improve glucose control in rodents. Its role in obesity is, however, not well characterized. In this study, we investigated the ability of GDNF to protect against high-fat diet (HFD)-induced obesity. GDNF transgenic (Tg) mice that overexpress GDNF under the control of the glial fibrillary acidic protein promoter and wild-type (WT) littermates were maintained on a HFD or regular rodent diet for 11 wk, and weight gain, energy expenditure, and insulin sensitivity were monitored. Differentiated mouse brown adipocytes and 3T3-L1 white adipocytes were used to study the effects of GDNF in vitro. Tg mice resisted the HFD-induced weight gain, insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, hyperleptinemia, and hepatic steatosis seen in WT mice despite similar food intake and activity levels. They exhibited significantly (P<0.001) higher energy expenditure than WT mice and increased expression in skeletal muscle and brown adipose tissue of peroxisome proliferator activated receptor-α and β1- and β3-adrenergic receptor genes, which are associated with increased lipolysis and enhanced lipid β-oxidation. In vitro, GDNF enhanced β-adrenergic-mediated cAMP release in brown adipocytes and suppressed lipid accumulation in differentiated 3T3L-1 cells through a p38MAPK signaling pathway. Our studies demonstrate a novel role for GDNF in the regulation of high-fat diet-induced obesity through increased energy expenditure. They show that GDNF and its receptor agonists may be potential targets for the treatment or prevention of obesity.
Keywords: beta-oxidation; energy expenditure; hepatic steatosis; neurotrophic; β-adrenergic signaling.