Ghrelin is a peptide hormone produced and secreted in the stomach. Numerous studies over the past decade demonstrate its importance in food intake, body-weight regulation and glucose homeostasis. These effects are driven largely by the high expression of the ghrelin receptor (GHSR1a) in the hypothalamus. However, GHSR1a is also expressed in numerous extra-hypothalamic neuronal populations, suggesting that ghrelin has physiological functions besides those involved in metabolic functions. In this review, I focus on increasing evidence that ghrelin has important roles in extra-hypothalamic functions, including learning and memory, reward and motivation, anxiety and depression, and neuroprotection. Furthermore, I discuss how the recently demonstrated role of ghrelin in promoting survival during periods of caloric restriction could contribute to its inherent neuroprotective and neuromodulatory properties.
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