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Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2006 Feb;145(3):298-310. Epub 2005 Oct 25.

Characterization of turkey and chicken ghrelin genes, and regulation of ghrelin and ghrelin receptor mRNA levels in broiler chickens.

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Growth Biology Laboratory, USDA, ARS, Beltsville, MD 20705-2350, USA.


Ghrelin, a peptide hormone produced by the stomach in mammals, stimulates growth hormone release and food intake. Recently, ghrelin was identified and characterized in chicken proventriculus and shown to stimulate growth hormone release but inhibit feed intake. The purpose of this work was to identify and further characterize the ghrelin gene in chickens and in turkeys. Using molecular cloning techniques we have sequenced cDNAs corresponding to chicken (White Leghorn) and turkey ghrelin mRNAs. A total of 844 (chicken) or 869 (turkey) bases including the complete coding regions (CDS), and the 5'- and 3'-untranslated regions (UTRs) were determined. Nucleotide sequence (CDS) predicted a 116 amino acid precursor protein (preproghrelin) for both the chicken and the turkey that demonstrated complete conservation of an N-terminal 'active core' (GSSF) including a serine (position 3 of the mature hormone) known to be a modification (acylation) site important for ghrelin bioactivity. Additional nucleotide sequence was found in the 5'-UTRs of both Leghorn and turkey cDNAs that was not present in broilers or the red jungle fowl. The turkey ghrelin gene, sequenced from genomic DNA templates, contained five exons and four introns, a structure similar to mammalian and chicken ghrelin genes. Ghrelin was highly expressed in proventriculus with much lower levels of expression in other tissues such as pancreas, brain, and intestine. RT-PCR was used to quantify ghrelin mRNA levels relative to 18S rRNA in 3-week-old male broiler chickens. The level of ghrelin mRNA increased in proventriculus in response to fasting but did not decline with subsequent refeeding. Plasma ghrelin levels did not change significantly in response to fasting or refeeding and did not appear to reflect changes in proventriculus ghrelin mRNA levels. Ghrelin mRNA levels declined in broiler pancreas after a 48 h fast and increased upon refeeding. Expression of the gene encoding the receptor for ghrelin (growth hormone secretagogue receptor, GHS-R) and a variant form was detected in a variety of tissues collected from 3-week-old male broiler chickens possibly suggesting autocrine/paracrine effects. These results offer new information about the avian ghrelin and ghrelin receptor genes and the potential role that this system might play in regulating feed intake and energy balance in poultry.

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