The gastric-derived orexigenic peptide ghrelin affects brain circuits involved in energy balance as well as in reward. Indeed, ghrelin activates an important reward circuit involved in natural- as well as drug-induced reward, the cholinergic-dopaminergic reward link. It has been hypothesized that there is a common reward mechanism for alcohol and sweet substances in both animals and humans.
Alcohol dependent individuals have higher craving for sweets than do healthy controls and the hedonic response to sweet taste may, at least in part, depend on genetic factors. Rat selectively bred for high sucrose intake have higher alcohol consumption than non-sucrose preferring rats and vice versa. In the present study a group of alcohol-consuming individuals selected from a population cohort was investigated for genetic variants of the ghrelin signalling system in relation to both their alcohol and sucrose consumption.
Moreover, the effects of GHS-R1A antagonism on voluntary sucrose- intake and operant self-administration, as well as saccharin intake were investigated in preclinical studies using rodents. The effects of peripheral grelin administration on sucrose intake were also examined. Here we found associations with the ghrelin gene haplotypes and increased sucrose consumption, and a trend for the same association was seen in the high alcohol consumers. The preclinical data show that a GHS-R1A antagonist reduces the intake and self-administration of sucrose in rats as well as saccharin intake in mice. Further, ghrelin increases the intake of sucrose in rats.
Collectively, our data provide a clear indication that the GHS-R1A antagonists reduces and ghrelin increases the intake of rewarding substances and hence, the central ghrelin signalling system provides a novel target for the development of drug strategies to treat addictive behaviours.