FGF21 improves glucose homeostasis in an obese diabetes-prone mouse model independent of body fat changes

Diabetologia. 2017 Nov;60(11):2274-2284. doi: 10.1007/s00125-017-4389-x. Epub 2017 Aug 2.


Aims/hypothesis: Fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) is considered to be a promising therapeutic candidate for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. However, as FGF21 levels are elevated in obese and diabetic conditions we aimed to test if exogenous FGF21 is sufficient to prevent diabetes and beta cell loss in New Zealand obese (NZO) mice, a model for polygenetic obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Methods: Male NZO mice were treated with a specific dietary regimen that leads to the onset of diabetes within 1 week. Mice were treated subcutaneously with PBS or FGF21 to assess changes in glucose homeostasis, energy expenditure, food intake and other metabolic endpoints.

Results: FGF21 treatment prevented islet destruction and the onset of hyperglycaemia, and improved glucose clearance. FGF21 increased energy expenditure by inducing browning in subcutaneous white adipose tissue. However, as a result of a compensatory increased food intake, body fat did not decrease in response to FGF21 treatment, but exhibited elevated Glut4 expression.

Conclusions/interpretation: FGF21 prevents the onset of diet-induced diabetes, without changing body fat mass. Beneficial effects are mediated via white adipose tissue browning and elevated thermogenesis. Furthermore, these data indicate that obesity does not induce FGF21 resistance in NZO mice.

Keywords: Energy expenditure; FGF21; Glucose homeostasis; Insulin resistance; NZO; Obesity; Thermogenesis; UCP1.

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / drug effects
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue, White / drug effects
  • Adipose Tissue, White / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Energy Metabolism / drug effects
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors / blood*
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors / therapeutic use*
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Obese
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Thermogenesis


  • fibroblast growth factor 21
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors
  • Glucose