Human ghrelin ameliorates organ injury and improves survival after radiation injury combined with severe sepsis

Mol Med. 2009 Nov-Dec;15(11-12):407-14. doi: 10.2119/molmed.2009.00100. Epub 2009 Sep 18.


In the terrorist radiation exposure scenario, radiation victims are likely to suffer from additional injuries such as sepsis. Our previous studies have shown that ghrelin is protective in sepsis. However, it remains unknown whether ghrelin ameliorates sepsis-induced organ injury and mortality after radiation exposure. The purpose of this study is to determine whether human ghrelin attenuates organ injury and improves survival in a rat model of radiation combined injury (RCI) and, if so, the potential mechanism responsible for the benefit. To study this, adult male rats were exposed to 5-Gy whole body irradiation followed by cecal ligation and puncture (CLP, a model of sepsis) 48 h thereafter. Human ghrelin (30 nmol/rat) or vehicle (saline) was infused intravenously via an osmotic minipump immediately after radiation exposure. Blood and tissue samples were collected at 20 h after RCI (68 h after irradiation or 20 h after CLP) for various measurements. To determine the longterm effect of human ghrelin after RCI, the gangrenous cecum was removed at 5 h after CLP and 10-d survival was recorded. In addition, vagotomy or sham vagotomy was performed in sham and RCI animals immediately prior to ghrelin administration, and various measurements were performed at 20 h after RCI. Our results showed that serum levels of ghrelin and its gene expression in the stomach were decreased markedly at 20 h after RCI. Administration of human ghrelin attenuated tissue injury markedly, reduced proinflammatory cytokine levels, decreased tissue myeloperoxidase activity, and improved survival after RCI. Furthermore, elevated plasma levels of norepinephrine (NE) after RCI were reduced significantly by ghrelin. However, vagotomy prevented ghrelin's beneficial effects after RCI. In conclusion, human ghrelin is beneficial in a rat model of RCI. The protective effect of human ghrelin appears to be attributed to re-balancing the dysregulated sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Cecum / injuries
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Ghrelin / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-6 / metabolism
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Liver / enzymology
  • Liver / injuries
  • Male
  • Norepinephrine / metabolism
  • Peroxidase / metabolism
  • Radiation Injuries, Experimental / complications
  • Radiation Injuries, Experimental / drug therapy*
  • Radiation Injuries, Experimental / pathology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sepsis / complications
  • Sepsis / drug therapy*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism


  • Ghrelin
  • Interleukin-6
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Peroxidase
  • Norepinephrine