Ghrelin has novel vascular actions that mimic PI 3-kinase-dependent actions of insulin to stimulate production of NO from endothelial cells

Academic Article


  • Ghrelin is an orexigenic peptide hormone secreted by the stomach. In patients with metabolic syndrome and low ghrelin levels, intra-arterial ghrelin administration acutely improves their endothelial dysfunction. Therefore, we hypothesized that ghrelin activates endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) in vascular endothelium, resulting in increased production of nitric oxide (NO) using signaling pathways shared in common with the insulin receptor. Similar to insulin, ghrelin acutely stimulated increased production of NO in bovine aortic endothelial cells (BAEC) in primary culture (assessed using NO-specific fluorescent dye 4,5-diaminofluorescein) in a time- and dose-dependent manner. Production of NO in response to ghrelin (100 nM, 10 min) in human aortic endothelial cells was blocked by pretreatment of cells with N G-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (nitric oxide synthase inhibitor), wortmannin [phosphatidylinositol (PI) 3-kinase inhibitor], or (D-Lys 3)-GHRP-6 (selective antagonist of ghrelin receptor GHSR-1a), as well as by knockdown of GHSR-1a using small-interfering (si) RNA (but not by mitogen/extracellular signal-regulated kinase inhibitor PD-98059). Moreover, ghrelin stimulated increased phosphorylation of Akt (Ser473) and eNOS (Akt phosphorylation site Ser1179) that was inhibitable by knockdown of GHSR-1a using siRNA or by pretreatment of cells with wortmannin but not with PD-98059. Ghrelin also stimulated phosphorylation of mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase in BAEC. However, unlike insulin, ghrelin did not stimulate MAP kinase-dependent secretion of the vasoconstrictor endothelin-1 from BAEC. We conclude that ghrelin has novel vascular actions to acutely stimulate production of NO in endothelium using a signaling pathway that involves GHSR-1a, PI 3-kinase, Akt, and eNOS. Our findings may be relevant to developing novel therapeutic strategies to treat diabetes and related diseases characterized by reciprocal relationships between endothelial dysfunction and insulin resistance.
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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Iantorno M; Chen H; Kim JA; Tesauro M; Lauro D; Cardillo C; Quon MJ
  • Volume

  • 292
  • Issue

  • 3