Pathophysiological role of growth differentiation factor 15 (GDF15) in obesity, cancer, and cachexia

Cytokine Growth Factor Rev. 2022 Apr;64:71-83. doi: 10.1016/j.cytogfr.2021.11.002. Epub 2021 Nov 17.


Growth differentiation factor 15 or macrophage inhibitory cytokine-1 (GDF15/MIC-1) is a divergent member of the transforming growth factor β superfamily and has a diverse pathophysiological roles in cancers, cardiometabolic disorders, and other diseases. GDF15 controls hematopoietic growth, energy homeostasis, adipose tissue metabolism, body growth, bone remodeling, and response to stress signals. The role of GDF15 in cancer development and progression is complicated and depends on the specific cancer type, stage, and tumor microenvironment. Recently, research on GDF15 and GDF15-associated signaling has accelerated due to the identification of the GDF15 receptor: glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) family receptor α-like (GFRAL). Therapeutic interventions to target GDF15 and/or GFRAL revealed the mechanisms that drive its activity and might improve overall outcomes of patients with metabolic disorders and cancer. This review highlights the structure and functions of GDF15 and its receptor, emphasizing the pleiotropic role of GDF15 in obesity, tumorigenesis, metastasis, immunomodulation, and cachexia.

Keywords: Cachexia; Cancer; GDF15; GFRAL; Obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cachexia / metabolism
  • Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Receptors / metabolism
  • Growth Differentiation Factor 15* / metabolism
  • Growth Differentiation Factor 15* / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / metabolism
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Tumor Microenvironment


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