UTSW Researchers Unlock How Hormone Protects Pancreas

FGF21 is a stress hormone that protects the pancreas from damage by digestive enzymes.


Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have made a breakthrough that could lead to new therapies for pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas that can be life-threatening.

According to news release, the researchers uncovered the mechanism by which the stress hormone FGF21 inhibits digestive enzymes from damaging the pancreas.

Roughly 210,000 Americans are hospitalized each year with acute pancreatitis, according to the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

It can have a variety of causes, including long-term, heavy consumption of alcohol, gallstones and some heredity factors, UTSW said in the release.

“Previous studies had shown that FGF21 protected the pancreas, but it was unknown how or by what mechanism.”
Dr. David Mangelsdorf

Drs. David Mangelsdorf and Steven Kliewer published a collaborative study with European researchers in November that compared genomes of over 105,000 light and heavy social drinkers. It identified a gene variant of the brain’s FGF21 receptors that suppress the desire to consume alcohol, UTSW said.

The researchers then focused on FGF21’s effects on the digestive system.

“Previous studies had shown that FGF21 protected the pancreas, but it was unknown how or by what mechanism,” said Mangelsdorf, chair of pharmacology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “We found that FGF21 has a novel, unexpected role in stimulating the pancreas to secrete digestive enzymes into the intestines.”

Find out more about the breadth of the research into FGF21 here.

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