Ghrelin is a potent orexigenic peptide hormone that acts through the growth hormone secretagogue receptor (GHSR), a G protein-coupled receptor highly expressed in the hypothalamus. In vitro studies have shown that GHSR displays a high constitutive activity, whose physiological relevance is uncertain. As GHSR gene expression in the hypothalamus is known to increase in fasting conditions, we tested the hypothesis that constitutive GHSR activity at the hypothalamic level drives the fasting-induced hyperphagia. We found that refed wild-type (WT) mice displayed a robust hyperphagia that continued for 5 days after refeeding and changed their food intake daily pattern. Fasted WT mice showed an increase in plasma ghrelin levels, as well as in GHSR expression levels and ghrelin binding sites in the hypothalamic arcuate nucleus. When fasting-refeeding responses were evaluated in ghrelin- or GHSR-deficient mice, only the latter displayed an ∼15% smaller hyperphagia, compared with WT mice. Finally, fasting-induced hyperphagia of WT mice was significantly smaller in mice centrally treated with the GHSR inverse agonist K-(D-1-Nal)-FwLL-NH2, compared with mice treated with vehicle, whereas it was unaffected in mice centrally treated with the GHSR antagonists D-Lys3-growth hormone-releasing peptide 6 or JMV2959. Taken together, genetic models and pharmacological results support the notion that constitutive GHSR activity modulates the magnitude of the compensatory hyperphagia triggered by fasting. Thus, the hypothalamic GHSR signaling system could affect the set point of daily food intake, independently of plasma ghrelin levels, in situations of negative energy balance.
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