Regulation of energy homeostasis requires precise coordination between peripheral nutrient-sensing molecules and central regulatory networks. Ghrelin is a twenty-eight-amino acid orexigenic peptide acylated at the serine 3 position mainly with an n-octanoic acid, which is produced mainly in the stomach. It is the endogenous ligand of the growth hormone secretagogue (GHS) receptors. Since plasma ghrelin levels are strictly dependent on recent food intake, this hormone plays an essential role in appetite and meal initiation. In addition, ghrelin is involved in the regulation of energy homeostasis. The ghrelin gene is composed of four exons and three introns and renders a diversity of orexigenic peptides as well as des-acyl ghrelin and obestatin, which exhibit anorexigenic properties. Ghrelin stimulates the synthesis of neuropeptide Y (NPY) and agouti-related protein (AgRP) in the arcuate nucleus neurons of the hypothalamus and hindbrain, which in turn enhance food intake. Ghrelin-expressing neurons modulate the action of both orexigenic NPY/AgRP and anorexigenic pro-opiomelanocortin neurons. AMP-activated protein kinase is activated by ghrelin in the hypothalamus, which contributes to lower intracellular long-chain fatty acids, and this appears to be the molecular signal for the expression of NPY and AgRP. Recent data suggest that ghrelin has an important role in the regulation of leptin and insulin secretion and vice versa. The present paper updates the effects of ghrelin on the control of energy homeostasis and reviews the molecular mechanisms of ghrelin synthesis, as well as interaction with GHS receptors and signalling. Relationships with leptin and insulin in the regulation of energy homeostasis are addressed.
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