Ghrelin transport across the blood–brain barrier can occur independently of the growth hormone secretagogue receptor

Elizabeth M. Rhea, Therese S. Salameh, Sarah Gray, Jingjing Niu, William A. Banks, Jenny Tong

Ghrelin is a 28-amino acid peptide mainly produced in the stomach and small intestines. Its receptor is the growth hormone secretagogue receptor (GHSR) 1a. Rhea et al. investigated whether ghrelin transport across the blood-brain barrier (BBB) is GHSR dependent by using a Ghsr null mouse model. They show for the first time that the GHSR is not solely responsible for ghrelin transport across the BBB.

Objective: The blood–brain barrier (BBB) regulates the entry of substrates and peptides into the brain. Ghrelin is mainly produced in the stomach but exerts its actions in the central nervous system (CNS) by crossing the BBB. Once present in the CNS, ghrelin can act in the hypothalamus to regulate food intake, in the hippocampus to regulate neurogenesis, and in the olfactory bulb to regulate food-seeking behavior. The goal of this study was to determine whether the primary signaling receptor for ghrelin, the growth hormone secretagogue receptor (GHSR), mediates the transport of ghrelin from blood to brain.

Methods: We utilized the sensitive and quantitative multiple-time regression analysis technique to determine the transport rate of mouse and human acyl ghrelin (AG) and desacyl ghrelin (DAG) in wildtype and Ghsr null mice. We also measured the regional distribution of these ghrelin peptides throughout the brain. Lastly, we characterized the transport characteristics of human DAG by measuring the stability in serum and brain, saturability of transport, and the complete transfer across the brain endothelial cell.

Results: We found the transport rate across the BBB of both forms of ghrelin, AG, and DAG, were not affected by the loss of GHSR. We did find differences in the transport rate between the two isoforms, with DAG being faster than AG; this was dependent on the species of ghrelin, human being faster than mouse. Lastly, based on the ubiquitous properties of ghrelin throughout the CNS, we looked at regional distribution of ghrelin uptake and found the highest levels of uptake in the olfactory bulb.

Conclusion: The data presented here suggest that ghrelin transport can occur independently of the GHSR, and ghrelin uptake varies regionally throughout the brain. These findings better our understanding of the gut-brain communication and may lead to new understandings of ghrelin physiology.