The neuronal circuitry underlying the complex relationship between stress, mood and food intake are slowly being unravelled and several studies suggest a key role herein for the peripherally derived hormone, ghrelin. Evidence is accumulating linking obesity as an environmental risk factor to psychiatric disorders such as stress, anxiety and depression. Ghrelin is the only known orexigenic hormone from the periphery to stimulate food intake. Plasma ghrelin levels are enhanced under conditions of physiological stress and ghrelin has recently been suggested to play an important role in stress-induced food reward behaviour. In addition, chronic stress or atypical depression has often demonstrated to correlate with an increase in ingestion of caloric dense 'comfort foods' and have been implicated as one of the major contributor to the increased prevalence of obesity. Recent evidence suggests ghrelin as a critical factor at the interface of homeostatic control of appetite and reward circuitries, modulating the hedonic aspects of food intake. Therefore, the reward-related feeding of ghrelin may reveal itself as an important factor in the development of addiction to certain foods, similar to its involvement in the dependence to drugs of abuse, including alcohol. This review will highlight the accumulating evidence demonstrating the close interaction between food, mood and stress and the development of obesity. We consider the ghrelinergic system as an effective target for the development of successful anti-obesity pharmacotherapies, which not only affects appetite but also selectively modulates the rewarding properties of food and impact on psychological well-being in conditions of stress, anxiety and depression.
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