Excess nutrient supply and rapid weight gain during early life are risk factors for the development of obesity during adulthood. This metabolic malprogramming may be mediated by endocrine disturbances during critical periods of development. Ghrelin is a metabolic hormone secreted from the stomach that acts centrally to promote feeding behavior by binding to growth hormone secretagogue receptors in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus. Here, we examined whether neonatal overnutrition causes changes in the ghrelin system.
We used a well-described mouse model of divergent litter sizes to study the effects of postnatal overfeeding on the central and peripheral ghrelin systems during postnatal development.
Mice raised in small litters became overweight during lactation and remained overweight with increased adiposity as adults. Neonatally overnourished mice showed attenuated levels of total and acyl ghrelin in serum and decreased levels of Ghrelin mRNA expression in the stomach during the third week of postnatal life. Normalization of hypoghrelinemia in overnourished pups was relatively ineffective at ameliorating metabolic outcomes, suggesting that small litter pups may present ghrelin resistance. Consistent with this idea, neonatally overnourished pups displayed an impaired central response to peripheral ghrelin. The mechanisms underlying this ghrelin resistance appear to include diminished ghrelin transport into the hypothalamus.
Early postnatal overnutrition results in central resistance to peripheral ghrelin during important periods of hypothalamic development. Because ghrelin signaling has recently been implicated in the neonatal programming of metabolism, these alterations in the ghrelin system may contribute to the metabolic defects observed in postnatally overnourished mice.