Ghrelin, an endogenous ligand for the GH secretagogue receptor, was isolated from rat stomach and is involved in a novel system for regulating GH release. Although previous studies in rodents suggest that ghrelin is also involved in energy homeostasis and that ghrelin secretion is influenced by feeding, little is known about plasma ghrelin in humans. To address this issue, we studied plasma ghrelin-like immunoreactivity levels and elucidated the source of circulating ghrelin and the effects of feeding state on plasma ghrelin-like immunoreactivity levels in humans. The plasma ghrelin-like immunoreactivity concentration in normal humans measured by a specific RIA was 166.0 +/- 10.1 fmol/ml. Northern blot analysis of various human tissues identified ghrelin mRNA found most abundantly in the stomach and plasma ghrelin-like immunoreactivity levels in totally gastrectomized patients were reduced to 35% of those in normal controls. Plasma ghrelin-like immunoreactivity levels were increased by 31% after 12-h fasting and reduced by 22% immediately after habitual feeding. In patients with anorexia nervosa, plasma ghrelin-like immunoreactivity levels were markedly elevated compared with those in normal controls (401.2 +/- 58.4 vs. 192.8 +/- 19.4 fmol/ml) and were negatively correlated with body mass indexes. We conclude that the stomach is a major source of circulating ghrelin and that plasma ghrelin-like immunoreactivity levels reflect acute and chronic feeding states in humans.