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Ghrelin's Role in the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis Stress Response: Implications for Mood Disorders.


Ghrelin is a stomach hormone normally associated with feeding behavior and energy homeostasis. Recent studies highlight that ghrelin targets the brain to regulate a diverse number of functions, including learning, memory, motivation, stress responses, anxiety, and mood. In this review, we discuss recent animal and human studies showing that ghrelin regulates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and affects anxiety and mood disorders, such as depression and fear. We address the neural sites of action through which ghrelin regulates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and associated stress-induced behaviors, including the centrally projecting Edinger-Westphal nucleus, the hippocampus, amygdala, locus coeruleus, and the ventral tegmental area. Stressors modulate many behaviors associated with motivation, fear, anxiety, depression, and appetite; therefore, we assess the potential role for ghrelin as a stress feedback signal that regulates these associated behaviors. Finally, we briefly discuss important areas for future research that will help us move closer to potential ghrelin-based therapies to treat stress responses and related disorders.