Ghrelin stimulates adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) secretion by human ACTH-secreting pituitary adenomas in vitro

Francesca Pecori Giraldi, L. G. Bucciarelli, A. Saccani, M. Scacchi, S. Pesce, M. Losa, F. Cavagnini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ghrelin is a brain-gut peptide with wide-ranging endocrine, metabolic, cardiovascular and neural effects. Ghrelin, like its synthetic counterparts, the growth hormone (GH) secretagogues, has been shown to markedly stimulate adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol secretion in humans and the ACTH-releasing effect of GH secretagogues is even greater in patients with pituitary ACTH-secreting tumours. Furthermore, these tumours synthesize ghrelin itself, suggesting an intrapituitary ghrelin circuit. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the effect of ghrelin on ACTH secretion by human pituitary corticotroph tumours in vitro to test the functionality of this circuit. Nine ACTH-secreting pituitary tumours (four microadenomas, five macroadenomas) were collected during surgery and incubated with 10-100nM human ghrelin or with 10nM human corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH). Control experiments were performed in rat anterior pituitary primary cultures. ACTH secretion was assessed after 4h and 24h incubation by immunometric assay. After 4h of incubation with ghrelin, medium ACTH concentrations were two- to ten-fold higher compared to ACTH concentrations in unstimulated wells. The ACTH-releasing effect of ghrelin was significantly less than the response elicited by 10nM CRH (up to 40-fold) Similar results were obtained after 24h of incubation and a superimposable response pattern was observed in rat anterior pituitary primary cultures. The present study demonstrates that the endogenous GH secretagogue, ghrelin, stimulates ACTH secretion directly from human tumoural corticotrophs, as well as from normal rat pituitary, and indicates that the marked ACTH release elicited by ghrelin in patients with Cushing's disease in vivo is due, at least in part, to its action on the pituitary tumour. However, the reversal of the response pattern reported in vivo, with ghrelin proving a lesser stimulant than CRH in vitro, suggests that additional, suprapituitary mechanisms are involved in the in vivo response. Moreover, these data uphold the concept of a functional intratumoural ghrelin paracrine circuit in human corticotroph adenomas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)208-212
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Neuroendocrinology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2007


  • ACTH
  • Cushing's disease
  • Ghrelin
  • Pituitary tumours

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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