OBJECTIVE: It has been demonstrated that ghrelin plays a major role in the regulation of GH secretion and food intake. These actions make ghrelin a strong candidate for the treatment of GH deficiency, anorexia and cachexia. However, only preliminary studies have been performed to assess ghrelin administration in humans. In this study, we have conducted a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial to investigate the pharmacokinetics, safety, and endocrine and appetite effects of ghrelin in young healthy volunteers. DESIGN: Eighteen male volunteers were randomly assigned into three groups of six subjects: low- and high-dose ghrelin groups, who received intravenous injections of 1 and 5 microg/kg ghrelin (acylated form) respectively, and a placebo group who were injected with mannitol instead of ghrelin. RESULTS: Acylated ghrelin disappeared more rapidly from plasma than total ghrelin, with elimination half life (t(1/2)) of 9-13 and 27-31 min respectively. The number of subjects that experienced adverse effects did not significantly differ among the three groups, and all adverse effects were transient and well tolerated. Both the low and high doses of ghrelin strongly stimulated GH release (peak plasma concentration (C(max,0-90 min)): 124.2+/-63.9 and 153.2+/-52.2 ng/ml for 1 and 5 microg/kg ghrelin respectively). Slight alterations of blood glucose and insulin levels after the injection were observed. Although not statistically significant, ghrelin administration tended to increase hunger sensation in a dose-dependent manner. CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that ghrelin is safe, and that clinical trials may be started to assess the usefulness of ghrelin for the treatment of disorders related to GH secretion and appetite.