Here we review recent advances that identify a role for the central ghrelin signalling system in reward from both natural rewards (such as food) and artificial rewards (that include alcohol and drugs of abuse). Whereas ghrelin emerged as a stomach-derived hormone involved in energy balance, hunger and meal initiation via hypothalamic circuits, it now seems clear that it also has a role in motivated reward-driven behaviours via activation of the so-called "cholinergic-dopaminergic reward link" This reward link comprises a dopamine projection from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) to the nucleus accumbens together with a cholinergic input, arising primarily from the laterodorsal tegmental area. Ghrelin administration into the VTA or LDTg activates the "cholinergic-dopaminergic" reward link, suggesting that ghrelin may increase the incentive value of motivated behaviours such as reward-seeking behaviour (" wanting" or "incentive motivation"). Further, direct injection of ghrelin into the brain ventricles or into the VTA increases the consumption of rewarding foods as well as alcohol in mice and rats. Studies in rodents show beneficial effects of ghrelin receptor (GHS-R1A) antagonists to suppress the intake of palatable food, to reduce preference for caloric foods, to suppress food reward and motivated behaviour for food. They have also been shown to reduce alcohol consumption, suppress reward induced by alcohol, cocaine and amphetamine. Furthermore, variations in the GHS-R1A and pro-ghrelin genes have been associated with high alcohol consumption, smoking and increased weight gain in alcohol dependent individuals as well as with bulimia nervosa and obesity. Thus, the central ghrelin signalling system interfaces neurobiological circuits involved in reward from food as well as chemical drugs; agents that directly or indirectly suppress this system emerge as potential candidate drugs for suppressing problematic over-eating that leads to obesity as well as for the treatment of substance use disorder.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology