Serum ghrelin levels are inversely correlated with body mass index, age, and insulin concentrations in normal children and are markedly increased in Prader-Willi syndrome

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2003 Jan;88(1):174-8. doi: 10.1210/jc.2002-021052.


Ghrelin, an endogenous ligand of the GH secretagogue receptor, stimulates appetite and causes obesity in animal models and in humans when given in pharmacologic doses. Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS) is a genetic obesity syndrome characterized by GH deficiency and the onset of a voracious appetite and obesity in childhood. We, therefore, hypothesized that ghrelin levels may play a role in the expression of obesity in this syndrome. We measured fasting serum ghrelin levels in 13 PWS children with an average age of 9.5 yr (range, 5-15) and body mass index (BMI) of 31.3 kg/m2 (range, 22-46). The PWS group was compared with 4 control groups: 20 normal weight controls matched for age and sex, 17 obese children (OC), and 14 children with melanocortin-4 receptor mutations (MC4) matched for age, sex, and BMI, and a group of 3 children with leptin deficiency (OB). In non-PWS subjects, ghrelin levels were inversely correlated with age (r = 0.36, P = 0.007), insulin (r = 0.55, P < 0.001), and BMI (r = 0.62, P < 0.001), but not leptin. In children with PWS, fasting ghrelin concentrations were not significantly different compared with normal weight controls (mean +/- SD; 429 +/- 374 vs. 270 +/- 102 pmol/liter; P = 0.14). However, children with PWS did demonstrate higher fasting ghrelin concentrations (3- to 4-fold elevation) compared with all obese groups (OC, MC4, OB) (mean +/- SD; 429 +/- 374 vs. 139 +/- 70 pmol/liter; P < 0.001). In conclusion, ghrelin levels in children with PWS are significantly elevated (3- to 4-fold) compared with BMI-matched obese controls (OC, MC4, OB). Elevation of serum ghrelin levels to the degree documented in this study may play a role as an orexigenic factor driving the insatiable appetite and obesity found in PWS.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aging / blood*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Ghrelin
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood*
  • Male
  • Obesity / blood
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Peptide Hormones / blood*
  • Prader-Willi Syndrome / blood*
  • Reference Values


  • Ghrelin
  • Insulin
  • Peptide Hormones