Ghrelin is an acyl-peptide gastric hormone acting on the pituitary and hypothalamus to stimulate growth hormone (GH) release, adiposity, and appetite. Ghrelin endocrine activities are entirely dependent on its acylation and are mediated by GH secretagogue (GHS) receptor (GHSR)-1a, a G protein-coupled receptor mostly expressed in the pituitary and hypothalamus, previously identified as the receptor for a group of synthetic molecules featuring GH secretagogue (GHS) activity. Des-acyl ghrelin, which is far more abundant than ghrelin, does not bind GHSR-1a, is devoid of any endocrine activity, and its function is currently unknown. Ghrelin, which is expressed in heart, albeit at a much lower level than in the stomach, also exerts a cardio protective effect through an unknown mechanism, independent of GH release. Here we show that both ghrelin and des-acyl ghrelin inhibit apoptosis of primary adult and H9c2 cardiomyocytes and endothelial cells in vitro through activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase-1/2 and Akt serine kinases. In addition, ghrelin and des-acyl ghrelin recognize common high affinity binding sites on H9c2 cardiomyocytes, which do not express GHSR-1a. Finally, both MK-0677 and hexarelin, a nonpeptidyl and a peptidyl synthetic GHS, respectively, recognize the common ghrelin and des-acyl ghrelin binding sites, inhibit cell death, and activate MAPK and Akt.These findings provide the first evidence that, independent of its acylation, ghrelin gene product may act as a survival factor directly on the cardiovascular system through binding to a novel, yet to be identified receptor, which is distinct from GHSR-1a.