OBJECTIVE: To test the hypothesis that hyporesponsiveness to ghrelin due to reduced growth hormone (GH) contributes to the aging-related hyperinflammatory state in sepsis. SUMMARY BACKGROUND DATA: Sepsis and septic shock are a serious problem, particularly in the geriatric population. Ghrelin is an endogenous ligand for the GH secretagogue receptor 1a (GHSR1a, ie, ghrelin receptor). The decline in GH with age is directly associated with many adverse changes that occur with aging. However, the role of GH, ghrelin, and GHSR1a in the age-associated vulnerability to sepsis remains unknown. METHODS: Male Fischer 344 rats (young: 3 months; aged: 24 months) were used. Plasma GH levels, ghrelin receptor expression, and neuronal activity in the parasympathostimulatory nuclei of the brain stem in normal young and aged animals were measured. Endotoxemia was induced by intravenous injection of lipopolysaccharide (LPS, 15 mg/kg BW). RESULTS: While LPS-induced release of proinflammatory cytokines from macrophages isolated from aged rats decreased, LPS injection resulted in an in vivo hyperinflammatory state. GH levels were lower in aged rats, which was associated with lower expression of GHSR1a in the dorsal vagal complex and a decrease in parasympathostimulatory neuronal activity. GHSR1a antagonist elevated LPS-induced cytokine release in young rats. GH increased GHSR-1a expression in the dorsal vagal complex in aged rats. Coadministration of ghrelin and GH, but not ghrelin alone or GH alone, markedly reduced cytokine levels and organ injury after endotoxemia in aged rats, which was associated with significantly elevated parasympathostimulatory neuronal activity. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that the reduced central (brain) responsiveness to ghrelin due to the decreased GH, plays a major role in producing the hyperinflammatory state, resulting in severe organ injuries and high mortality after endotoxemia in aged animals. Ghrelin and GH can be developed as a novel therapy for sepsis in the geriatric population.
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