Elevated circulating levels of the divergent transforming growth factor-beta (TGFb) family cytokine, growth differentiation factor 15 (GDF15), acting through its CNS receptor, glial-derived neurotrophic factor receptor alpha-like (GFRAL), can cause anorexia and weight loss leading to anorexia/cachexia syndrome of cancer and other diseases. Preclinical studies suggest that administration of drugs based on recombinant GDF15 might be used to treat severe obesity. However, the role of the GDF15–GFRAL pathway in the physiological regulation of body weight and metabolism is unclear. The critical site of action of GFRAL in the CNS has also not been proven beyond doubt. To investigate these two aspects, we have inhibited the actions of GDF15 in mice started on high-fat diet (HFD).
The actions of GDF15 were inhibited using two methods: (1) Groups of 8 mice under HFD had their endogenous GDF15 neutralised by monoclonal antibody treatment, (2) Groups of 15 mice received AAV-shRNA to knockdown GFRAL at its hypothesised major sites of action, the hindbrain area postrema (AP) and the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS). Metabolic measurements were determined during both experiments.
Treating mice with monoclonal antibody to GDF15 shortly after commencing HFD results in more rapid gain of body weight, adiposity and hepatic lipid deposition than the control groups. This is accompanied by reduced glucose and insulin tolerance and greater expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines in adipose tissue. Localised AP and NTS shRNA-GFRAL knockdown in mice commencing HFD similarly caused an increase in body weight and adiposity. This effect was in proportion to the effectiveness of GFRAL knockdown, indicated by quantitative analysis of hindbrain GFRAL staining. We conclude that the GDF15–GFRAL axis plays an important role in resistance to obesity in HFD-fed mice and that the major site of action of GDF15 in the CNS is GFRAL-expressing neurons in the AP and NTS.
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This project was supported in part by grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia, Diabetes Australia and the St Vincent’s Clinic Foundation.
Conflict of interest
DAB and SNB are inventors on patents owned by St Vincent’s Hospital that pertain to the clinical use of GDF15. The other authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
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Tsai, V.WW., Zhang, H.P., Manandhar, R. et al. GDF15 mediates adiposity resistance through actions on GFRAL neurons in the hindbrain AP/NTS. Int J Obes 43, 2370–2380 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41366-019-0365-5