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Nutrition. 2008 Sep;24(9):806-14. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2008.06.013.

Emergence of ghrelin as a treatment for cachexia syndromes.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA.


Cachexia is a constellation of symptoms that amount to body wasting in the setting of a variety of chronic illnesses, including cancer, heart failure, chronic kidney disease, and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. Cachexia is particularly worrisome clinically because it is associated with a worsened prognosis of the underlying disease. Despite a large amount of study in this area, no single agent has been shown to have consistent efficacy in human trials. One promising class in this setting is ghrelin receptor agonists. Ghrelin binds to the growth hormone secretagogue-1a receptor in appetite-regulating centers in the brain, increasing expression of neuropeptide Y and agouti-related peptide during short-term treatment. Ghrelin has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, which is significant, given that cachexia is thought to be produced at least partly by inflammation induced by the underlying disease. Animal studies have demonstrated efficacy using growth hormone secretagogue receptor agonists to treat cachexia caused by cancer, chemotherapy, and chronic kidney disease. Limited human trials using ghrelin or ghrelin receptor agonists in cancer and heart disease have shown improved appetite and body mass during treatment, although longer-term trials are needed to confirm sustained effects. Also uncertain--but an intriguing possibility--is whether the improved weight gain with ghrelin treatment might also lessen the severity of the underlying disease and improve outcomes.

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