FSTL3 deletion reveals roles for TGF-beta family ligands in glucose and fat homeostasis in adults

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Activin and myostatin are related members of the TGF-beta growth factor superfamily. FSTL3 (Follistatin-like 3) is an activin and myostatin antagonist whose physiological role in adults remains to be determined. We found that homozygous FSTL3 knockout adults developed a distinct group of metabolic phenotypes, including increased pancreatic islet number and size, beta cell hyperplasia, decreased visceral fat mass, improved glucose tolerance, and enhanced insulin sensitivity, changes that might benefit obese, insulin-resistant patients. The mice also developed hepatic steatosis and mild hypertension but exhibited no alteration of muscle or body weight. This combination of phenotypes appears to arise from increased activin and myostatin bioactivity in specific tissues resulting from the absence of the FSTL3 antagonist. Thus, the enlarged islets and beta cell number likely result from increased activin action. Reduced visceral fat is consistent with a role for increased myostatin action in regulating fat deposition, which, in turn, may be partly responsible for the enhanced glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. Our results demonstrate that FSTL3 regulation of activin and myostatin is critical for normal adult metabolic homeostasis, suggesting that pharmacological manipulation of FSTL3 activity might simultaneously reduce visceral adiposity, increase beta cell mass, and improve insulin sensitivity.

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