Ghrelin and its unacylated isoform stimulate the growth of adrenocortical tumor cells via an anti-apoptotic pathway

P. J D Delhanty, P. M. Van Koetsveld, C. Gauna, B. Van De Zande, G. Vitale, L. J. Hofland, A. J. Van Der Lely

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Ghrelin is expressed in normal human adrenocortical cells and induces their proliferation through growth hormone secretagogue receptor 1a (GHS-R1a). Consequently, it was of interest to us to determine whether acylated ghrelin and its predominant serum isoform, unacylated ghrelin, also act as factors for adrenocortical carcinoma cell growth. To examine a potential ghrelin-regulated system in adrenocortical tumors, we measured proliferative effects of acylated and unacylated ghrelin in the adrenocortical carcinoma cell lines SW-13 and NCI-H295R. We also examined the expression of ghrelin, GHSR1a, and corticotrophin-releasing factor receptor 2 (CRF-R2). Acylated and unacylated ghrelin in the nanomolar range dose-dependently induced adrenocortical cell growth up to 200% of untreated controls, as measured by thymidine uptake and WST1 assay. The proliferative effects of acylated and unacylated ghrelin in SW-13 cells was blocked by [D-Lys3]growth hormone-releasing peptide 6 (GHRP6), but a CRF-R2 antagonist had no effect on unacylated ghrelin growth stimulation. Cell cycle analysis suggests that acylated and unacylated ghrelin suppress the sub-G0/apoptotic fraction by up to 50%. Measurement of DNA fragmentation and caspase-3 and -7 activity in SW-13 cells confirmed that acylated and unacylated ghrelin suppress apoptotic rate. SW-13 cells express preproghrelin mRNA and secrete ghrelin, and [D-Lys3]GHRP6 suppresses their basal proliferation rate, strongly suggesting that ghrelin could act as an auto/paracrine growth factor. Acylated and unacylated ghrelin are potential auto/paracrine factors acting through an antiapoptotic pathway to stimulate adrenocortical tumor cell growth. Unacylated ghrelin-stimulated growth is suppressed by an antagonist of GHS-R1a, suggesting either that unacylated ghrelin is acylated before its action or that ghrelin, unacylated ghrelin, and [D-Lys3]GHRP-6 bind to a novel receptor in these cells.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2007



  • Unacylated ghrelin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Endocrinology
  • Biochemistry

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