Elevated Fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) in obese, insulin resistant states is normalised by the synthetic retinoid Fenretinide in mice

Nicola Morrice, George McIlroy, Sheshu R. Tammireddy, Jennifer Reekie, Kirsty D. Shearer, Mary K Doherty, Mirela Delibegovic, Phillip D. Whitfield, Nimesh Mody* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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ibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) has emerged as an important beneficial regulator of glucose and lipid homeostasis but its levels are also abnormally increased in insulin-resistant states in rodents and humans. The synthetic retinoid Fenretinide inhibits obesity and improves glucose homeostasis in mice and has pleotropic effects on cellular pathways. To identify Fenretinide target genes, we performed unbiased RNA-seq analysis in liver from mice fed high-fat diet ± Fenretinide. Strikingly, Fgf21 was the most downregulated hepatic gene. Fenretinide normalised elevated levels of FGF21 in both high-fat diet-induced obese mice and in genetically obese-diabetic Leprdbmice. Moreover, Fenretinide-mediated suppression of FGF21 was independent of body weight loss or improved hepatic insulin sensitivity and importantly does not induce unhealthy metabolic complications. In mice which have substantially decreased endogenous retinoic acid biosynthesis, Fgf21 expression was increased, whereas acute pharmacological retinoid treatment decreased FGF21 levels. The repression of FGF21 levels by Fenretinide occurs by reduced binding of RARα and Pol-II at the Fgf21 promoter. We therefore establish Fgf21 as a novel gene target of Fenretinide signalling via a retinoid-dependent mechanism. These results may be of nutritional and therapeutic importance for the treatment of obesity and type-2 diabetes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number43782
Number of pages13
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2017

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to thank undergraduate student Aleksandra Kowalczuk (University of Aberdeen) for assisting in experiments and Dr. Emma K. Lees (School of Health Sciences, Liverpool Hope University, Liverpool, UK) for invaluable discussions concerning the regulation of FGF21. We thank Dr. Calum Sutherland and Dr. Amy Cameron (both Division of Molecular and Clinical Medicine, Ninewells Hospital and Medical School, University of Dundee, Scotland, UK) for technical support and expertise in performing hepatocyte studies. Fenretinide was a generous gift of T. Martin (Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick, NJ) and U. Thumeer (Cilag AG, Schaffhausen, Switzerland), for use completely without restriction or obligation. Quantitative-PCR was carried out using the qPCR Core Facility (Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen). RNA-sequencing was carried out at the University of Aberdeen Centre for Genome Enabled Biology and Medicine. Pancreas histology was performed by Dr Linda Davidson (Department of Histology, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, NHS Grampian, Foresterhill Health Campus, Aberdeen, UK). This study was supported by the British Heart Foundation Intermediate Basic Research Fellowship FS/09/026 to N. Mody, RCUK fellowship to MD, EFSD/Lilly Programme Grant to MD and N. Mody, Tenovus Scotland grants G10/04 and G14/14 to N. Mody, University of Aberdeen Centre for Genome Enabled Biology and Medicine (CGEBM) PhD studentship to N. Morrice and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council studentship to GDM.


  • endocrine system and metabolic diseases
  • gene expression analysis
  • metabolic syndrome


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