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Surgery. 2008 Mar;143(3):334-42. doi: 10.1016/j.surg.2007.09.039. Epub 2007 Dec 27.

Exogenous ghrelin modulates release of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines in LPS-stimulated macrophages through distinct signaling pathways.

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Department of Surgery, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Mass 02115, USA.



Ghrelin, an orexigenic 28-amino-acid peptide, has been studied primarily in relation to the control of appetite and fat metabolism. In addition to these well-known functions, ghrelin, and its target receptors, growth hormone secretagogue receptors (GHS-Rs), have been localized to neutrophils, lymphocytes, and macrophages, which suggests that ghrelin may be involved in immune modulation.


To assess the therapeutic role of ghrelin in production of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines, the effects of exogenous ghrelin administration on the regulation of cytokine release in lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-activated murine RAW 264.7 macrophages were analyzed.


Ghrelin and GHS-Rs are expressed in murine macrophages. In addition, exogenous ghrelin inhibited the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-1beta and TNF-alpha in LPS-stimulated murine macrophages in a dose dependent and time-dependent fashion. Exogenous ghrelin pretreatment resulted in a decrease in LPS-induced NFkappaB activation and was presumably the reason for this ghrelin-mediated effect. In contrast to these findings, exogenous ghrelin significantly augmented the release of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 in a dose-dependent and time-dependent fashion from LPS-stimulated murine macrophages. Ghrelin administration enhanced activation of p38 MAPK, which is known to control the release of IL-10 in macrophages independent of the NFkappaB pathway. These effects of ghrelin on both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines were offset when a specific GHS-R receptor antagonist was added to the culture media.


These data suggest that ghrelin has potent anti-inflammatory properties through modulation of secretion of both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines from LPS-stimulated macrophages through distinct signaling cascades. Therapeutic utility of ghrelin to control, modulate, or treat pathologic inflammatory conditions like endotoxemic shock and ulcerative colitis requires additional investigation.

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