Ghrelin and the short- and long-term regulation of appetite and body weight

Physiol Behav. 2006 Aug 30;89(1):71-84. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2006.05.022. Epub 2006 Jul 21.


Ghrelin, an acylated upper gastrointestinal peptide, is the only known orexigenic hormone. Considerable evidence implicates ghrelin in mealtime hunger and meal initiation. Circulating levels decrease with feeding and increase before meals, achieving concentrations sufficient to stimulate hunger and food intake. Preprandial ghrelin surges occur before every meal on various fixed feeding schedules and also among individuals initiating meals voluntarily without time- or food-related cues. Ghrelin injections stimulate food intake rapidly and transiently, primarily by increasing appetitive feeding behaviors and the number of meals. Preprandial ghrelin surges are probably triggered by sympathetic nervous output. Postprandial suppression is not mediated by nutrients in the stomach or duodenum, where most ghrelin is produced. Rather, it results from post-ingestive increases in lower intestinal osmolarity (information probably relayed to the foregut via enteric nervous signaling), as well as from insulin surges. Consequently, ingested lipids suppress ghrelin poorly compared with other macronutrients. Beyond a probable role in meal initiation, ghrelin also fulfills established criteria for an adiposity-related hormone involved in long-term body-weight regulation. Ghrelin levels circulate in relation to energy stores and manifest compensatory changes in response to body-weight alterations. Ghrelin crosses the blood-brain barrier and stimulates food intake by acting on several classical body-weight regulatory centers, including the hypothalamus, hindbrain, and mesolimbic reward system. Chronic ghrelin administration increases body weight via diverse, concerted actions on food intake, energy expenditure, and fuel utilization. Congenital ablation of the ghrelin or ghrelin-receptor gene causes resistance to diet-induced obesity, and pharmacologic ghrelin blockade reduces food intake and body weight. Ghrelin levels are high in Prader-Willi syndrome and low after gastric bypass surgery, possibly contributing to body-weight alterations in these settings. Extant evidence favors roles for ghrelin in both short-term meal initiation and long-term energy homeostasis, making it an attractive target for drugs to treat obesity and/or wasting disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetite / physiology*
  • Body Weight / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Ghrelin
  • Humans
  • Obesity
  • Peptide Hormones / metabolism*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / physiology
  • Receptors, Ghrelin
  • Time Factors


  • Ghrelin
  • Peptide Hormones
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Receptors, Ghrelin