In a recent study from the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, researchers discovered a certain hormone in the liver with the ability to alter one’s preference for alcoholic and sweet substances. Known as the fibroblast growth factor 21, or “FGF21,” the hormone is typically activated in the brain’s reward system by extreme cold temperatures, sudden changes in diet, and in carbohydrate consumption. With this new information, researchers are now working to use the hormone to weaken cravings – possibly meaning a new treatment for alcoholism and type 2 diabetes on the horizon.
“This is the first time a hormone made in the liver has been shown to affect sugar and alcohol preference in mammals,” said Dr. Steven Kliewer, Professor of Molecular Biology and Pharmacology at UT Southwestern and co-senior author of the study. “Our findings raise the possibility that FGF21 administration could affect nutrient preference and other reward behaviors in humans, and that the hormone could potentially be used to treat alcoholism.”
The study, published Thursday in the scientific journal Cell Metabolism, illustrates an increasingly prominent link between hormones in the liver and the nervous system, an association which researchers examined during the study. They found that mice with higher levels of the FGF21 hormone showed a decreased preference for sweetened water and water that was laced with alcohol. Co-senior author Dr. David Mangelsdorf also noted that monkeys with elevated levels of FGF21 displayed weakened cravings for sweets as well.
Furthermore, after four more studies of the hormone, researchers at the Mangelsdorf-Kliewer laboratory concluded that it may also have the ability to regulate metabolism, reproduction in females, and even the body’s internal clock. Additionally, in 2014 the hormone was also found to be responsible for acting on the brain to cause weight loss.
“The finding that FGF21 acts via the brain was completely unexpected when we started down this path of investigation a dozen years ago,” Kilewer said. “These findings suggest that additional studies are warranted to assess the effects of FGF21 on sweet and alcohol preference and other reward behavior in humans.”