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Physiol Rev. 2005 Apr;85(2):495-522.

Ghrelin: structure and function.

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  • 1Molecular Genetics, Institute of Life Science, Kurume University, Hyakunenkouen 1-1, Kurume, Fukuoka 839-0864, Japan.


Small synthetic molecules called growth hormone secretagogues (GHSs) stimulate the release of growth hormone (GH) from the pituitary. They act through the GHS-R, a G protein-coupled receptor whose ligand has only been discovered recently. Using a reverse pharmacology paradigm with a stable cell line expressing GHS-R, we purified an endogenous ligand for GHS-R from rat stomach and named it "ghrelin," after a word root ("ghre") in Proto-Indo-European languages meaning "grow." Ghrelin is a peptide hormone in which the third amino acid, usually a serine but in some species a threonine, is modified by a fatty acid; this modification is essential for ghrelin's activity. The discovery of ghrelin indicates that the release of GH from the pituitary might be regulated not only by hypothalamic GH-releasing hormone, but also by ghrelin derived from the stomach. In addition, ghrelin stimulates appetite by acting on the hypothalamic arcuate nucleus, a region known to control food intake. Ghrelin is orexigenic; it is secreted from the stomach and circulates in the bloodstream under fasting conditions, indicating that it transmits a hunger signal from the periphery to the central nervous system. Taking into account all these activities, ghrelin plays important roles for maintaining GH release and energy homeostasis in vertebrates.

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