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Pharmacol Ther. 2009 Aug;123(2):207-23. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2009.04.004. Epub 2009 May 6.

Motilin and ghrelin as prokinetic drug targets.

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Center for Gastrointestinal Research, University of Leuven, Belgium.


Motilin is a hormone released by the endocrine cells of the duodenal mucosa during fasting to stimulate gastrointestinal motility. Ghrelin, the closest family member of motilin, was discovered 10 years ago from the rat stomach as the long-awaited endogenous ligand of the growth hormone secretagogue receptor. Ghrelin has now emerged as a multifunctional hormone with important effects on energy homeostasis but also on gastrointestinal motility. Like motilin, it induces hunger contractions in the fasting state and acts postprandially to accelerate gastric emptying. While the development of motilin agonists for the treatment of hypomotility disorders has been going on for more than 15 years, the development of ghrelin agonists is still in its infancy. The failure of the first generation of motilin agonists in clinical trials has been largely due to problems of desensitization and worsening of symptoms due to effects on gastric accommodation. These issues are being taken care of with the second generation of motilin agonists that are currently under evaluation. Ghrelin agonists have the same potential as motilin agonists to treat hypomotility disorders but their effects on appetite may even be a bonus to treat disorders such as functional dyspepsia while ghrelin's anti-inflammatory effects may make it superior to motilin to treat post-operative ileus. Nevertheless the important endocrine activities of ghrelin may result in side effects which are not encountered with motilin. Future studies will need to point out whether the motilin-ghrelin receptor family will make it as a new class of gastroprokinetics.

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