Mapping the response of human fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) promoter to serum availability and lipoic acid in HepG2 hepatoma cells

Mengna Xia, Anjeza Erickson, Xiaohua Yi, Régis Moreau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The hormone-like polypeptide, fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21), is a major modulator of lipid and glucose metabolism and an exploratory treatment strategy for obesity related metabolic disorders. The costs of recombinant FGF21 and mode of delivery by injection are important constraints to its wide therapeutic use. The stimulation of endogenous FGF21 production through diet is being explored as an alternative approach. To that end, we examined the mechanism(s) by which serum manipulation and lipoic acid (a dietary activator of FGF21) induce FGF21 in human hepatocellular carcinoma HepG2 cells. Serum withdrawal markedly induced FGF21 mRNA levels (88 fold) and FGF21 secreted in the media (19 fold). Lipoic acid induced FGF21 mRNA 7 fold above DMSO-treated control cells and FGF21 secretion 3 fold. These effects were several-fold greater than those of PPARα agonist, Wy14643, which failed to induce FGF21 above and beyond the induction seen with serum withdrawal. The use of transcription inhibitor, actinomycin D, revealed that de novo mRNA synthesis drives FGF21 secretion in response to serum starvation. Four previously unrecognized loci in FGF21 promoter were nucleosome depleted and enriched in acetylated histone H3 revealing their role as transcriptional enhancers and putative transcription factor binding sites. FGF21 did not accumulate to a significant degree in induced HepG2 cells, which secreted FGF21 time dependently in media. We conclude that lipoic acid cell signaling connects with the transcriptional upregulation of FGF21 and it may prove to be a safe and affordable means to stimulate FGF21 production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)498-507
Number of pages10
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - General Subjects
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2016


  • Dihydrolipoic acid
  • FAIRE assay
  • Fucosyltransferase 1
  • Histone H3
  • Nucleosome
  • PPARα

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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