Hormone present in breast milk plays a key role in regulating newborn metabolism
A scientific team led by Francesc Villarroya, professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Barcelona (UB), has proved that a compound found in breast milk, named fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21), plays a key role in neonatal nutrient absorption and intestinal function. FGF21 also contributes to improve newborn growth and metabolic profile. The results of the study have been published in the journal Scientific Reports of the Nature Publishing Group.
FGF21 is a hormonal factor produced mainly in the liver. The factor is present in the human body in a natural manner, even if in some people it is more active than in others. To date, it was known that it plays important roles in favouring glucose uptake and energy metabolism, and thus possesses anti-diabetic and anti-obesity properties. The research study has proved that oral infusion of FGF21 to neonatal gut induces the gene expression of intestinal hormones and increases intestinal lactase activity and lactose absorption.
Animal models indicate that metabolic profile and growth is 25 per cent better in neonates who receive the factor than in those who do not receive it. In order to come to this conclusion, researchers analysed the differences between a group of pups nursed with milk containing FGF21 and another group of pups nursed with milk lacking FGF21.
In a previous study developed together with the Hospital Sant Joan de Déu, the team led by Dr Villarroya found that FGF21 levels are very low in foetuses, but the blood levels of FGF21 rise dramatically after birth and the initiation of suckling. This fact proves the importance of maternal breast feeding.
Further studies will be required to confirm these findings in human neonates. Researchers will analyse the long-term effects that having been exposed to FGF21 has on the metabolism until adolescence, as well as the presence of the factor in formula feeding in order to optimise biotechnological formula designs to fulfil the complexities of optimal milk composition and mimic the properties of breast milk.
Source: Universitat de Barcelona