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Clinical pharmacology of human growth hormone and its secretagogues.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, University of South Florida College of Medicine, Tampa, USA.


The regulation of the synthesis and secretion of human growth hormone (hGH), its biologic activity, and its therapeutic use are reviewed. Both the production and secretion of GH are stimulated by hypothalamic GH-releasing hormone (GHRH) and by the endogenous GH secretagogue (GHS) ghrelin, a product of the oxyntic cells located within the fundus of the stomach. Ghrelin and GHRH act synergistically to stimulate GH secretion when administered in vivo, but they act additively when incubated with somatotrophs in vitro. Ghrelin is also found within the hypothalamic arcuate nucleus where it may enhance the release of GHRH and impair that of somatostatin (SRIH) thus contributing to its synergism with GHRH; ghrelin is an orexigenic peptide as well as a GHS and appears to play an important role in energy metabolism. SRIH inhibits the secretion but not the synthesis of GH and more effectively that stimulated by GHRH than that by ghrelin. The action of GH is mediated by the GH receptor, a straight chain protein of 620 amino acids with extracellular, transmembrane and cytoplasmic domains. GH has two specific receptor binding sites, (I, II) that bind sequentially to similar acceptor sequences of two GHRs. Activation of the GHR signal transduction pathway begins with attachment of two Janus kinase 2 (JAK2) molecules to the intracellular domains of the GHRs leading to phosphorylation of the tyrosine residues of JAK2 and the GHRs; thereafter the signal transduction and activators of transcription (STAT) and Ras mitogen-activated-protein kinase pathways are enhanced. GHRH, SRIH, and ghrelin act through G-protein coupled receptors (GPCR); GHRH activates adenylyl cyclase, cyclic AMP, and protein kinase A pathways, while ghrelin stimulates phospholipase C activity leading to production of inositol 1,4,5-trisphophate and diacylglycerol, increase in cytosolic calcium levels, and GH release; SRIH acts though an inhibitory GPCR to prevent depolarization of the somatotroph thus blocking GH secretion. GH has long been used to stimulate linear growth in children with GH deficiency (GHD); it has also been demonstrated to be effective in adults with GHD. The availability of large quantities of recombinant hGH has broadly increased the number of children with short stature being treated with this agent--not always with marked effectiveness. Synthesis of the GHR antagonist pegvisomant has provided another agent with which to treat patients with acromegaly. GHRH also enhances linear growth rate effectively in children with GHD but is less effective than hGH. The discovery of peptidyl and non-peptidyl GH secretagogues (that preceded and led to the identification of ghrelin itself) presents yet other agents for stimulation of endogenous GH secretion that have been useful in diagnostic studies for GHD and for its treatment in small groups of subjects. It is likely that hGH and its secretagoguess will become of increasing clinical usefulness in future decades.

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