Ghrelin is a new gastric peptide involved in food intake control and growth hormone release. We aimed to assess its cell localisation in man during adult and fetal life and to clarify present interspecies inconsistencies of gastric endocrine cell types. A specific serum generated against amino acids 13-28 of ghrelin was tested on fetal and adult gastric mucosa and compared with ghrelin in situ hybridisation. Immunogold electron microscopy was performed on normal human, rat and dog adult stomach. Ghrelin cells were detected in developing gut, pancreas and lung from gestational week 10 and in adult human, rat and dog gastric mucosa. By immunogold electron microscopy, gastric ghrelin cells showed distinctive morphology and hormone reactivity in respect to histamine enterochromaffin-like, somatostatin D, glucagon A or serotonin enterochromaffin cells. Ghrelin cells were characterised by round, compact, electron-dense secretory granules of P/D(1) type in man (mean diameter 147+/-30 nm), A-like type in the rat (183+/-37 nm) and X type in the dog (273+/-49 nm). It is concluded that, ghrelin is produced by well-defined cell types, which in the past had been labelled differently in various mammals mostly because of the different size of their secretory granule. In man ghrelin cells develop during early fetal life.