Central ghrelin signaling mediates the metabolic response of C57BL/6 male mice to chronic social defeat stress

Endocrinology. 2013 Mar;154(3):1080-91. doi: 10.1210/en.2012-1834. Epub 2013 Jan 22.


Chronic stressors promote metabolic disturbances, including obesity and metabolic syndrome. Ghrelin, a peptide that promotes appetite and the accumulation of adipose tissue, is also secreted in response to stressors to protect the brain and peripheral tissues from the effects of these stressors. Here we demonstrate that elevated ghrelin levels produced by chronic exposure to social stress are associated with increased caloric intake and body weight gain in male C57BL mice. In contrast, stressed mice lacking ghrelin receptors (GHSR KO mice) or C57BL mice receiving chronic intracerebroventricular delivery of the ghrelin receptor antagonist [d-Lys(3)]-GHRP-6 show attenuated weight gain and feeding responses under the same social stress paradigm. Interestingly, stressed GHSR KO mice showed depleted sc and intrascapular brown fat depots, whereas stressed young wild-type mice did not. In old wild-type mice, chronic social defeat increased visceral and intrascapular brown fat depots in association with increases in obesity markers like hyperleptinemia and hyperinsulinemia along with increased hypothalamic expression of neuropeptide Y and Agouti related peptide. Importantly, the elevated expression of these peptides persisted least for 2 weeks after cessation of the stressor regimen. In contrast, old GHSR KO mice did not show these alterations after chronic social defeat. These results suggest that ghrelin plays an important role in the metabolic adaptations necessary to meet the energetic demands posed by stressors, but chronic exposure to stress-induced ghrelin elevations ultimately could lead to long lasting metabolic dysfunctions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / pathology
  • Aging / pathology
  • Aging / physiology
  • Aging / psychology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Energy Intake / physiology
  • Ghrelin / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Ghrelin / blood
  • Ghrelin / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Models, Biological
  • Obesity / pathology
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Receptors, Ghrelin / deficiency
  • Receptors, Ghrelin / genetics
  • Receptors, Ghrelin / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Social Behavior*
  • Stress, Physiological*
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Weight Gain / physiology


  • Ghrelin
  • Receptors, Ghrelin