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Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2009 Feb 27;299(2):266-73. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2008.10.033. Epub 2008 Nov 5.

Early onset of ghrelin production in a marsupial.

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Department of Zoology, The University of Melbourne, Royal Parade, 3010 Victoria, Australia.


Ghrelin regulates appetite in mammals and can stimulate growth hormone (GH) release from the pituitary. In rats and humans, ghrelin cells appear in the stomach during late fetal life. Nevertheless, the role of ghrelin in early mammalian development is not well understood. Marsupials deliver highly altricial young that weigh less than 1g so they must feed and digest milk at a comparatively immature stage of development. Since they complete their growth and differentiation while in the pouch, they are accessible models in which to determine the time course of ghrelin production during development. We examined the distribution of gastric ghrelin cells, plasma ghrelin concentrations and pituitary expression of the ghrelin receptor (ghsr-1alpha) and GH in the tammar wallaby, Macropus eugenii. There were ghrelin immunopositive cells in the developing mesenchyme of the stomach from day 10 post partum (pp) to day 150pp. Subsequently ghrelin protein in the fore-stomach declined and was absent by day 250pp but remained in the gastric cells of the hind-stomach. Ghrelin was detected in the developing pancreas from day 10pp but was absent by day 150pp and in the adult. Pituitary ghsr-1alpha expression and plasma concentrations of ghrelin increased significantly up to day 70-120pp while GH expression was also elevated, declining with GH to reach adult levels by day 180pp. These results demonstrate an early onset of gastric ghrelin expression in the tammar in concert with a functional stomach at a relatively earlier stage than that of developmentally more mature eutherian young.

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