GFRAL is the receptor for GDF15 and the ligand promotes weight loss in mice and nonhuman primates

Nat Med. 2017 Oct;23(10):1150-1157. doi: 10.1038/nm.4392. Epub 2017 Aug 28.


Growth differentiation factor 15 (GDF15), a distant member of the transforming growth factor (TGF)-β family, is a secreted protein that circulates as a 25-kDa dimer. In humans, elevated GDF15 correlates with weight loss, and the administration of GDF15 to mice with obesity reduces body weight, at least in part, by decreasing food intake. The mechanisms through which GDF15 reduces body weight remain poorly understood, because the cognate receptor for GDF15 is unknown. Here we show that recombinant GDF15 induces weight loss in mice fed a high-fat diet and in nonhuman primates with spontaneous obesity. Furthermore, we find that GDF15 binds with high affinity to GDNF family receptor α-like (GFRAL), a distant relative of receptors for a distinct class of the TGF-β superfamily ligands. Gfral is expressed in neurons of the area postrema and nucleus of the solitary tract in mice and humans, and genetic deletion of the receptor abrogates the ability of GDF15 to decrease food intake and body weight in mice. In addition, diet-induced obesity and insulin resistance are exacerbated in GFRAL-deficient mice, suggesting a homeostatic role for this receptor in metabolism. Finally, we demonstrate that GDF15-induced cell signaling requires the interaction of GFRAL with the coreceptor RET. Our data identify GFRAL as a new regulator of body weight and as the bona fide receptor mediating the metabolic effects of GDF15, enabling a more comprehensive assessment of GDF15 as a potential pharmacotherapy for the treatment of obesity.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diet, High-Fat
  • Eating / drug effects*
  • Eating / genetics
  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Receptors / genetics*
  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Receptors / metabolism
  • Growth Differentiation Factor 15 / genetics*
  • Growth Differentiation Factor 15 / metabolism
  • Growth Differentiation Factor 15 / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Weight Loss / drug effects*
  • Weight Loss / genetics


  • GDF15 protein, human
  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Receptors
  • Growth Differentiation Factor 15