Fibroblast Growth Factor-21 Improves Pancreatic β-Cell Function and Survival by Activation of Extracellular Signal–Regulated Kinase 1/2 and Akt Signaling Pathways

  1. Wolf Wente1,
  2. Alexander M. Efanov1,
  3. Martin Brenner1,
  4. Alexei Kharitonenkov2,
  5. Anja Köster2,
  6. George E. Sandusky2,
  7. Sabine Sewing1,
  8. Iris Treinies1,
  9. Heike Zitzer1 and
  10. Jesper Gromada1
  1. 1Lilly Research Laboratories, Hamburg, Germany
  2. 2Lilly Research Laboratories, Division of Eli Lilly, Indianapolis, Indiana
  1. Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Alexander Efanov, Lilly Research Laboratories, Essener Bogen 7, D-22419 Hamburg, Germany. E-mail: efanov_alexander{at}


Fibroblast growth factor-21 (FGF-21) is a recently discovered metabolic regulator. Here, we investigated the effects of FGF-21 in the pancreatic β-cell. In rat islets and INS-1E cells, FGF-21 activated extracellular signal–regulated kinase 1/2 and Akt signaling pathways. In islets isolated from healthy rats, FGF-21 increased insulin mRNA and protein levels but did not potentiate glucose-induced insulin secretion. Islets and INS-1E cells treated with FGF-21 were partially protected from glucolipotoxicity and cytokine-induced apoptosis. In islets isolated from diabetic rodents, FGF-21 treatment increased islet insulin content and glucose-induced insulin secretion. Short-term treatment of normal or db/db mice with FGF-21 lowered plasma levels of insulin and improved glucose clearance compared with vehicle after oral glucose tolerance testing. Constant infusion of FGF-21 for 8 weeks in db/db mice nearly normalized fed blood glucose levels and increased plasma insulin levels. Immunohistochemistry of pancreata from db/db mice showed a substantial increase in the intensity of insulin staining in islets from FGF-21–treated animals as well as a higher number of islets per pancreas section and of insulin-positive cells per islet compared with control. No effect of FGF-21 was observed on islet cell proliferation. In conclusion, preservation of β-cell function and survival by FGF-21 may contribute to the beneficial effects of this protein on glucose homeostasis observed in diabetic animals.


  • J.G. is currently affiliated with Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    The costs of publication of this article were defrayed in part by the payment of page charges. This article must therefore be hereby marked “advertisement” in accordance with 18 U.S.C. Section 1734 solely to indicate this fact.

    • Accepted June 16, 2006.
    • Received November 3, 2005.
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