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J Dairy Sci. 2019 Dec;102(12):11597-11608. doi: 10.3168/jds.2019-16696. Epub 2019 Sep 20.

Fibroblast growth factor-21 (FGF21) administration to early-lactating dairy cows. II. Pharmacokinetics, whole-animal performance, and lipid metabolism.

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Department of Animal Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853.
Lilly Research Laboratories, Eli Lilly and Company, Indianapolis, IN 46285.
Department of Animal Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853. Electronic address:


Dairy cows cope with severe energy insufficiency in early lactation by engaging in intense and sustained mobilization of fatty acids from adipose tissue. An unwanted side effect of this adaptation is excessive lipid accumulation in the liver, which in turn impairs hepatic functions. Mice experiencing increased hepatic fatty acid flux are protected from this condition through coordinated actions of the newly described hormone fibroblast growth factor-21 (FGF21) on liver and adipose tissue. The possibility of an analogous role for FGF21 in dairy cows is suggested by its rapid increase in plasma levels around parturition followed by chronically elevated levels in the first few weeks of lactation. To test this hypothesis, dairy cows were randomly assigned on d 12.6 ± 2.2 (± standard error) of lactation to receive either an excipient (control; n = 6) or recombinant human FGF21 (n = 7), first as an FGF21 bolus of 3 mg/kg of body weight (BW) followed 2 d later by a constant i.v. infusion of FGF21 at a rate of 6.3 mg/kg of metabolic BW for 9 consecutive days. After bolus administration, human FGF21 circulated with a half-life of 194 min, and its constant infusion increased total plasma concentration 117-fold over levels in excipient-infused cows. The FGF21 treatment had no effect on voluntary feed intake, milk yield, milk energy output, or net energy balance measured over the 9-d infusion or on final BW. Plasma fatty acids circulated at lower concentrations in the FGF21 group than in the control group for the 8-h period following bolus administration, but this reduction was not significant during the period of constant i.v. infusion. Treatment with FGF21 caused a 50% reduction in triglyceride content in liver biopsies taken at the end of the constant i.v. infusion without altering the mRNA abundance of key genes involved in the transport, acyl coenzyme A activation, or oxidation of fatty acids. In contrast, FGF21 treatment ablated the recovery of plasma insulin-like growth factor-1 seen in control cows during the 9-d i.v. infusion period despite a tendency for higher plasma growth hormone. This effect was associated with increased hepatic mRNA abundance of the intracellular inhibitor of growth hormone receptor trafficking, LEPROT. Overall, these data confirm the ability of FGF21 to reduce lipid accumulation in bovine liver and suggest the possibility that FGF21 does so by attenuating the hepatic influx of adipose tissue-derived fatty acids.


fatty acid; growth hormone resistance; insulin-like growth factor-1; liver; β-hydroxybutyrate


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