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Genes Dev. 2012 Feb 1;26(3):271-81. doi: 10.1101/gad.177857.111.

FGF21 regulates PGC-1α and browning of white adipose tissues in adaptive thermogenesis.

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Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA.


Certain white adipose tissue (WAT) depots are readily able to convert to a "brown-like" state with prolonged cold exposure or exposure to β-adrenergic compounds. This process is characterized by the appearance of pockets of uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1)-positive, multilocular adipocytes and serves to increase the thermogenic capacity of the organism. We show here that fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) plays a physiologic role in this thermogenic recruitment of WATs. In fact, mice deficient in FGF21 display an impaired ability to adapt to chronic cold exposure, with diminished browning of WAT. Adipose-derived FGF21 acts in an autocrine/paracrine manner to increase expression of UCP1 and other thermogenic genes in fat tissues. FGF21 regulates this process, at least in part, by enhancing adipose tissue PGC-1α protein levels independently of mRNA expression. We conclude that FGF21 acts to activate and expand the thermogenic machinery in vivo to provide a robust defense against hypothermia.

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