Background Conflicting data concerning the involvement of ghrelin in the pathophysiology of alcohol dependence have been reported. The aim of this study is to investigate how chronic alcohol ingestion influences plasma ghrelin levels and whether potential changes observed in plasma relate to modifications in ghrelin production in the stomach where this peptide is primarily synthesized.
Materials and methods Fifty-one consecutive alcoholics admitted for alcohol withdrawal were prospectively enrolled and compared to a control group of 32 healthy volunteers matched for age, sex, height and weight. All subjects underwent fasting plasma ghrelin determination. Twenty-seven randomly selected alcoholics and 17 controls underwent gastroscopy for fundic and duodenal biopsies. Tissues were fixed for histology or frozen in liquid nitrogen for ghrelin protein and mRNA determinations by a radioimmunoassay and quantitative polymerase chain reaction, respectively. Alcohol consumption was normalized to body weight (BW) or body mass index (BMI) given the influence of BW and volume distribution on alcohol levels.
Results Plasma and fundic ghrelin protein levels were significantly decreased in alcoholics. Fundic but not plasma ghrelin protein levels inversely correlated with alcohol consumption normalized to BW or BMI. Ghrelin mRNA levels in fundic biopsies were similar in alcoholics and controls. No significant differences in duodenal ghrelin protein and mRNA levels were found between both groups.
Conclusions Alcoholism was associated with decreased plasma ghrelin levels partly due to reduced ghrelin production in the stomach. Alcohol affected ghrelin production on the post-transcriptional level in the fundus, whereas duodenal ghrelin secretion did not respond in a similar manner to alcohol intake.