Ghrelin, an orexigenic peptide synthesized by endocrine cells of the gastric mucosa, is released in the bloodstream in response to a negative energetic status. Since discovery, the hypothalamus was identified as the main source of ghrelin in the CNS, and effects of the peptide have been mainly observed in this area of the brain. In recent years, an increasing number of studies have reported ghrelin synthesis and effects in specific populations of neurons also outside the hypothalamus. Thus, ghrelin activity has been described in midbrain, hindbrain, hippocampus, and spinal cord. The spectrum of functions and biological effects produced by the peptide on central neurons is remarkably wide and complex. It ranges from modulation of membrane excitability, to control of neurotransmitter release, neuronal gene expression, and neuronal survival and proliferation. There is not at present a general consensus concerning the source of ghrelin acting on central neurons. Whereas it is widely accepted that the hypothalamus represents the most important endogenous source of the hormone in CNS, the existence of extra-hypothalamic ghrelin-synthesizing neurons is still controversial. In addition, circulating ghrelin can theoretically be another natural ligand for central ghrelin receptors. This paper gives an overview on the distribution of ghrelin and its receptor across the CNS and critically analyses the data available so far as regarding the effects of ghrelin on central neurotransmission.
Keywords: Ghrelin, GHSR, central nervous system, brain-gut hormone, feeding circuitry, memory, pain, neuroprotection
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