Novel expression and functional role of ghrelin in rat testis

Endocrinology. 2002 Feb;143(2):717-25. doi: 10.1210/endo.143.2.8646.


Ghrelin, the endogenous ligand for the GH-secretagogue receptor (GHS-R), is a recently cloned peptide, primarily expressed in the stomach and hypothalamus, that acts at central levels to elicit GH release and, notably, to regulate food intake. However, the possibility of additional, as yet unknown, peripheral effects of ghrelin cannot be ruled out. In the present communication, we provide evidence for the novel expression of ghrelin and its functional receptor in rat testis. Testicular ghrelin gene expression was demonstrated throughout postnatal development, and ghrelin protein was detected in Leydig cells from adult testis specimens. Accordingly, ghrelin mRNA signal became undetectable in rat testis following selective Leydig cell elimination. In addition, testicular expression of the gene encoding the cognate ghrelin receptor was observed from the infantile period to adulthood, with the GHS-R mRNA being persistently expressed after selective withdrawal of mature Leydig cells. From a functional standpoint, ghrelin, in a dose-dependent manner, induced an average 30% inhibition of human CG- and cAMP-stimulated T secretion in vitro. This inhibitory effect was associated with significant decreases in human CG-stimulated expression levels of the mRNAs encoding steroid acute regulatory protein, and P450 cholesterol side-chain cleavage, 3beta-hydroxy steroid dehydrogenase, and 17beta-hydroxy steroid dehydrogenase type III enzymes. Overall, our data are the first to provide evidence for a possible direct action of ghrelin in the control of testicular function. Furthermore, the present results underscore an unexpected role of ghrelin as signal with ability to potentially modulate not only growth and body weight homeostasis but also reproductive function, a phenomenon also demonstrated recently for the adipocyte-derived hormone, leptin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Primers
  • Ghrelin
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Peptide Hormones*
  • Peptides / genetics*
  • Peptides / physiology*
  • Protein Biosynthesis
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • RNA, Messenger / biosynthesis
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / biosynthesis
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled*
  • Receptors, Ghrelin
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Testis / metabolism
  • Testis / physiology*
  • Testosterone / metabolism


  • DNA Primers
  • Ghrelin
  • Peptide Hormones
  • Peptides
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Receptors, Ghrelin
  • Testosterone