The Journal of clinical investigation

Neonatal ghrelin programs development of hypothalamic feeding circuits.

PMID 25607843


A complex neural network regulates body weight and energy balance, and dysfunction in the communication between the gut and this neural network is associated with metabolic diseases, such as obesity. The stomach-derived hormone ghrelin stimulates appetite through interactions with neurons in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus (ARH). Here, we evaluated the physiological and neurobiological contribution of ghrelin during development by specifically blocking ghrelin action during early postnatal development in mice. Ghrelin blockade in neonatal mice resulted in enhanced ARH neural projections and long-term metabolic effects, including increased body weight, visceral fat, and blood glucose levels and decreased leptin sensitivity. In addition, chronic administration of ghrelin during postnatal life impaired the normal development of ARH projections and caused metabolic dysfunction. Consistent with these observations, direct exposure of postnatal ARH neuronal explants to ghrelin blunted axonal growth and blocked the neurotrophic effect of the adipocyte-derived hormone leptin. Moreover, chronic ghrelin exposure in neonatal mice also attenuated leptin-induced STAT3 signaling in ARH neurons. Collectively, these data reveal that ghrelin plays an inhibitory role in the development of hypothalamic neural circuits and suggest that proper expression of ghrelin during neonatal life is pivotal for lifelong metabolic regulation.