Circulating FGF21 proteolytic processing mediated by fibroblast activation protein (Zhen et al, 2016)

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Circulating FGF21 proteolytic processing mediated by fibroblast activation protein
Eugene Y. Zhen, Zhaoyan Jin, Bradley L. Ackermann, Melissa K. Thomas, Jesus A. Gutierrez

Fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21), a hormone implicated in the regulation of glucose homoeostasis, insulin sensitivity, lipid metabolism and body weight, is considered to be a promising therapeutic target for the treatment of metabolic disorders. Despite observations that FGF21 is rapidly proteolysed in circulation rending it potentially inactive, little is known regarding mechanisms by which FGF21 protein levels are regulated.

We systematically investigated human FGF21 protein processing using mass spectrometry. In agreement with previous reports, circulating human FGF21 was found to be cleaved primarily after three proline residues at positions 2, 4 and 171. The extent of FGF21 processing was quantified in a small cohort of healthy human volunteers. Relative abundance of FGF21 proteins cleaved after Pro-2, Pro-4 and Pro-171 ranged from 16 to 30%, 10 to 25% and 10 to 34%, respectively. Dipeptidyl peptidase IV (DPP-IV) was found to be the primary protease responsible for N-terminal cleavages after residues Pro-2 and Pro-4. Importantly, fibroblast activation protein (FAP) was implicated as the protease responsible for C-terminal cleavage after Pro-171, rendering the protein inactive. The requirement of FAP for FGF21 proteolysis at the C-terminus was independently demonstrated by in vitro digestion, immunodepletion of FAP in human plasma, administration of an FAP-specific inhibitor and by human FGF21 protein processing patterns in FAP knockout mouse plasma.

The discovery that FAP is responsible for FGF21 inactivation extends the FGF21 signalling pathway and may enable novel approaches to augment FGF21 actions for therapeutic applications.

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