In many mammals, lactation success depends on substantial use of lipid reserves and requires integrated metabolic activities between white adipose tissue (WAT) and liver. Mechanisms responsible for this integration in lactation are poorly understood, but data collected in other conditions of elevated lipid use suggest a role for fibroblast growth factor-21 (FGF21). To address this possibility in the context of lactation, we studied high-yielding dairy cows during the transition from late pregnancy (LP) to early lactation (EL). Plasma FGF21 was nearly undetectable in LP, peaked on the day of parturition, and then stabilized at lower, chronically elevated concentrations during the energy deficit of EL. Plasma FGF21 was similarly increased in the absence of parturition when an energy-deficit state was induced by feed restricting late-lactating dairy cows, implicating energy insufficiency as a cause of chronically elevated FGF21 in EL. Gene expression studies showed that liver was a major source of plasma FGF21 in EL with little or no contribution by WAT, skeletal muscle, and mammary gland. Meaningful expression of the FGF21 coreceptor β-Klotho was restricted to liver and WAT in a survey of 15 tissues that included the mammary gland. Expression of β-Klotho and its subset of interacting FGF receptors was modestly affected by the transition from LP to EL in liver but not in WAT. Overall, these data suggest a model whereby liver-derived FGF21 regulates the use of lipid reserves during lactation via focal actions on liver and WAT.
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