Genetic deletion of the ghrelin receptor (GHSR) impairs growth and blunts endocrine response to fasting in Ghsr-IRES-Cre mice
The orexigenic hormone ghrelin exerts its physiological effects by binding to and activating the growth hormone secretagogue receptor (GHSR). The recent development of a Ghsr-IRES-Cre knock-in mouse line has enabled to genetically access GHSR-expressing neurons. Inserting a Cre construct using a knock-in strategy, even when following an upstream internal ribosome entry site (IRES) can, however, interfere with expression of a targeted gene, with consequences for the phenotype emerging. This study aimed to phenotype, both physically and metabolically, heterozygous and homozygous Ghsr-IRES-Cre mice, with a view to discovering the extent to which the ghrelin signalling system remains functional in these mice.
We assessed feeding and arcuate nucleus (Arc) Fos activation in wild-type, heterozygous and homozygous Ghsr-IRES-Cre mice in response to peripherally-administered ghrelin. We also characterised their developmental and growth phenotypes, as well as their metabolic responses upon an overnight fast.
Insertion of the IRES-Cre cassette into the 3′-untranslated region of the Ghsr gene led to a gene-dosage GHSR depletion in the Arc. Whereas heterozygotes remained ghrelin-responsive and more closely resembled wild-types, ghrelin had reduced orexigenic efficacy and failed to induce Arc Fos expression in homozygous littermates. Homozygotes had a lower body weight accompanied by a shorter body length, less fat tissue content, altered bone parameters, and lower insulin-like growth factor-1 levels compared to wild-type and heterozygous littermates. Moreover, both heterozygous and homozygous Ghsr-IRES-Cre mice lacked the usual fasting-induced rise in growth hormone (GH) and displayed an exaggerated drop in blood glucose and insulin compared to wild-types. Unexpectedly, fasting acyl-ghrelin levels were allele-dependently increased.
Our data suggest that (i) heterozygous but not homozygous Ghsr-IRES-Cre mice retain the usual responsiveness to administered ghrelin, (ii) the impact of fasting on GH release and glucose homeostasis is altered even when only one copy of the Ghsr gene is non-functional (as in heterozygous Ghsr-IRES-Cre mice) and (iii) homozygous Ghsr-IRES-Cre mice exhibit growth retardation. Of the many transgenic models of suppressed ghrelin signalling, Ghsr-IRES-Cre mice emerge as best representing the full breadth of the expected phenotype with respect to body weight, growth, and metabolic parameters.