The datasets generated for this study are available on request from the corresponding author.
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Fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) is produced in the liver and binds to different complex receptor/coreceptor systems. Besides many other processes, FGF21 regulates the intake of simple sugars and alcohol. Increased levels of FGF21 decrease harmful alcohol intake in mice. To increase our understanding on the relationship between FGF21 and alcohol intake in humans, we aimed to measure FGF21 levels in patients with alcoholic liver cirrhosis (ALC) in comparison to patients with nonalcoholic liver cirrhosis (NALC) and healthy persons based on their present alcohol consumption.
Alcohol intake was verified by urinary ethyl glucuronide (uETG) levels, eating and drinking behaviour by a Food Frequency Questionnaire and FGF 21 plasma levels were determined by ELISA in 96 persons (ALC n = 41; NALC n = 34; healthy n = 21).
Both ALC and NALC patients with elevated ETG levels (≥0.5 μg/ml; indicating alcohol consumption in the last 12–72 h) showed significantly higher FGF21 plasma levels in comparison to patients with negative ETG levels. Eating behaviour did not have an impact on FGF21 plasma levels.
Increased FGF21 levels in patients with recent alcohol consumption (verified by ETG) confirmed the first part of the liver–brain endocrine axis: alcohol consumption was associated with increased FGF21 levels. We could not confirm that elevated FGF21 levels were associated with reduced alcohol intake as a result. That points towards a pathology in this pathway, which might be caused by a malfunction of β‑Klotho or FGF receptors according to other studies and chronic alcohol dependency. Further research is required to clarify these pathologies, which may open new pharmacological treatment for patients with alcohol use disorder and alcohol dependence.