Ghrelin is a 28-amino-acid peptide, with an essential n-octanoyl modification at Ser3, that elicits growth-hormone (GH) secretion in rats and humans. At present, the mechanisms of ghrelin action and its interactions with other systems controlling GH secretion remain poorly characterized. In this context, the present study was undertaken to obtain information about ontogeny and possible gender differences in the GH-releasing activity of ghrelin, and to delineate its primary site(s) of action at the hypothalamus and/or pituitary. In addition, the interactions between ghrelin and other relevant signals in the control of GH secretion, such as excitatory amino acids (EAAs), nitric oxide (NO) and serotonin, were assessed. Experiments were carried out in infantile-prepubertal animals, when GH pulsatility is not yet established. Systemic administration of ghrelin (25 nmol/rat, i.p.) to 5-, 10- and 23-day-old male and female rats increased plasma GH levels from day 10 onwards. This action was NO dependent, since it disappeared in 23-day-old males after pretreatment with an inhibitor of NO synthase (NAME). Similarly, central infusion of ghrelin (3 nmol/rat, i.c.v.) elicited GH responses in 10- and 23-day-old animals significantly higher than after systemic administration. By contrast, in vitro challenge of pituitary tissue with increasing doses of ghrelin (10–9–10–7M) failed to enhance GH release into the incubation medium, whereas stimulation with GH-releasing hormone (GHRH; 10–7M) or GHRP-6 (10–7M) was effective. Finally, effects of ghrelin were blocked by pretreatment with MK-801 and NBQX antagonists of EAA ionotropic receptors and after manipulation of endogenous serotoninergic tone. In addition, the potent releasing activity of EAA agonists NMDA and AMPA was blunted by pretreatment with D-Lys3-GHRP-6, a selective antagonist of the cognate ghrelin receptor, i.e. the GH-secretagogue receptor. In conclusion, our results demonstrate that GH-releasing activity of ghrelin appears early in the infantile period, is NO dependent and involves a primary hypothalamic site of action. The data also demonstrate for the first time the existence of a cross-talk between ghrelin and other neurotransmitter systems, such as EAAs and serotonin, in precise control of GH secretion.

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