Ghrelin, which was identified from the rat stomach, is a potent stimulant for food intake. Several lines of evidence suggest that the orexigenic action of ghrelin is mediated via the neuropeptide Y (NPY) neurons in the arcuate nucleus, although the detailed mechanisms by which ghrelin stimulates NPY neurons are not clear. In this study, we examined the gene regulation of NPY and agouti-related peptide (AGRP), another orexigenic peptide synthesized in the NPY neurons, in the arcuate nucleus by ghrelin in hypothalamic organotypic cultures. Incubation of the hypothalamic explants with ghrelin significantly increased NPY and AGRP mRNA expression in the presence, but not absence, of dexamethasone. Glucocorticoids were also necessary for ghrelin action in vivo because an intracerebroventricular injection of ghrelin significantly increased NPY and AGRP mRNA expression in the arcuate nucleus only in sham-operated, but not in adrenalectomized rats. The stimulatory effects of ghrelin on gene expression were not blocked by a sodium channel blocker tetrodotoxin in the organotypic cultures. Ghrelin also increased NPY heteronuclear (hn) RNA expression, the first transcript that has been used as an indicator for gene transcription. The stimulatory effects of ghrelin on NPY gene expression were abolished in the presence of cycloheximide, which blocks translation, suggesting that de novo protein synthesis is required for ghrelin action. These data suggest that ghrelin stimulates NPY and AGRP gene expression independently of action potentials only in the presence of glucocorticoids. Furthermore, our data demonstrate stimulatory action of ghrelin on NPY gene transcription, which requires de novo protein synthesis.
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