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Fibroblast growth factor (FGF) 21 belongs to a hormone-like subgroup within the FGF superfamily. The members of this subfamily, FGF19, FGF21 and FGF23, are characterized by their reduced binding affinity for heparin that enables them to be transported in the circulation and function in an endocrine manner. It is likely that FGF21 also acts in an autocrine and paracrine fashion, as multiple organs can produce this protein and its plasma concentration seems to be below the level necessary to induce a pharmacological effect. FGF21 signals via FGF receptors, but for efficient receptor engagement it requires a cofactor, membrane-spanning βKlotho (KLB). The regulation of glucose uptake in adipocytes was the initial biological activity ascribed to FGF21, but this hormone is now recognized to stimulate many other pathways in vitro and display multiple pharmacological effects in metabolically compromised animals and humans. Understanding of the precise physiology of FGF21 and its potential medicinal role has evolved exponentially over the last decade, yet numerous aspects remain to be defined and others are a source of debate. Here we provide a historical overview of the advances in FGF21 biology focusing on the uncertainties in the mechanism of action as well as the differing viewpoints relating to this intriguing protein. © 2016 The Association for the Publication of the Journal of Internal Medicine.


A Kharitonenkov, R DiMarchi. Fibroblast growth factor 21 night watch: advances and uncertainties in the field. Journal of internal medicine. 2017 Mar;281(3):233-246

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PMID: 27878865

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