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E Arvat, L Gianotti, F Broglio, B Maccagno, A Bertagna, R Deghenghi, F Camanni and E Ghigo


Hexarelin (HEX), a synthetic hexapeptide, has a strong and reproducible GH-releasing activity in man after intravenous, subcutaneous, intranasal and oral administration. Its effect undergoes age-related variations, being reduced in elderly subjects. In spite of evidence in animals showing that the activity of GH-releasing peptides (GHRPs) is positively influenced by oestrogens, in young adults no sex-related difference has been found in the GH response to HEX or to other GHRPs. We aimed to clarify the influence of the menopause and oestrogens on the GH-releasing activity of HEX. We studied the GH response to the acute administration of the maximal effective dose of HEX (2 μg/kgi.v.) in 24 young women (YW, age: 27·3±0·5 years; body mass index (BMI): 20·7±0·3 kg/m2). 14 post-menopausal women (PW, age: 52·9±1·2 years; BMI: 23·2±0·9 kg/m2) and 14 aged women (AW, age: 68·9±1·5 years; BMI: 21·7±0·7 kg/m2). In 10 post-menopausal women the GH response to HEX was also studied after 3 months of transdermal oestradiol treatment (delivery 50 μg/die). Basal oestrogen and GH levels in PW were lower than those in YW (oestrogen: 4·8±3·6 vs 42·0±3·4 pg/ml (mean±s.e.m.), P< 0·001; GH: 1·5±0·5 vs 2·9±0·6 μg/l, P< 0·02) and similar to those in AW (oestrogen: 1·3±0·4 pg/ml; GH: 0·9±0·2 μg/l). IGF-I levels in PW were not different from those in YW (174·4±11·9 vs 195·5±14·9 μg/l) and higher than those in AW (109·8±15·8 μg/l, P<0·01). The GH response to HEX in PW (areas under the curve±s.e.m.: 453·6±56·0 μg.min/l) was lower (P<0·002) than that in YW (1630·4±259·7 μg.min/l) while it did not differ from that in AW (781·8±189·3 μg.min/l). In PW 3-month oestrogen administration increased oestradiol levels (38·3±5·9 vs 0·8±0·4 pg/ml, p<0·001) making them similar to those recorded in YW, while it failed to modify both basal GH and IGF-I levels (GH: 1·8±0·6 vs 1·5±0·7 μg/l; IGF-I: 164·6±14·3 vs 175·0±12·3 μg/l). Also the GH response to HEX was not modified by oestradiol treatment (518·4±125·6 vs 425·4±69·3 μg.min/l). In conclusion, present data confirm the strong GH-releasing effect of Hexarelin in humans and demonstrate that its activity is already reduced in post-menopausal women to an extent overlapping that in elderly women. Moreover, oestrogen treatment is not able to restore it. Thus, the lack of oestrogens does not seem to account for the reduced somatotroph responsiveness to GHRPs in the post-menopausal period.

European Journal of Endocrinology 136 483–487

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E Arvat, B Maccagno, J Ramunni, M Maccario, R Giordano, F Broglio, F Camanni and E Ghigo

OBJECTIVE: It is known that glucagon administration elicits ACTH and cortisol responses in humans, although this effect takes place after intramuscular or subcutaneous but not after the intravenous route of administration. The mechanisms underlying this stimulatory effect on corticotroph secretion are unknown but they are unrelated to glucose variations and stress-mediated actions. DESIGN AND METHODS: To throw further light on the stimulatory effect of i.m. glucagon on the pituitary-adrenal axis, using six normal young female volunteers (26-32 years, body mass index 19.7-22.5 kg/m(2)) we studied the interaction between glucagon (GLU; 0.017 mg/kg i.m.) and human corticotropin-releasing hormone (hCRH; 2.0 microg/kg i.v.) or vasopressin (AVP; 0.17 U/kg i.m.). The interactions between hCRH and AVP on the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the GH response to GLU alone or combined with hCRH or AVP were also studied. RESULTS: GLU i.m. administration elicited a clear increase in ACTH (peak vs baseline, means+/-s.e.m.: 11.6+/-3.3 vs 4.2+/-0.3 pmol/l, P<0.05), cortisol (613.5+/-65.6 vs 436.9+/-19.3 nmol/l, P<0.05) and GH levels (11.6+/-3.4 vs 3.3+/-0.7 microg/l, P<0.05). The ACTH response to GLU (area under the curve: 426.4+/-80.9 pmol/l per 120 min) was higher than that to AVP (206.3+/-38.8 pmol/l per 120 min, P<0.02) and that to hCRH (299.8+/-39.8 pmol/l per 120 min) although this latter difference did not attain statistical significance. The GLU-induced cortisol response (28336.9+/-2430.7 nmol/l per 120 min) was similar to those after hCRH (24099.2+/-2075.2 nmol/l per 120 min) and AVP (21808.7+/-1948.2 nmol/l per 120 min). GLU and hCRH had an additive effect on ACTH (964.9+/-106.6 pmol/l per 120 min, P<0.02) and a less than additive effect on cortisol levels (35542.5+/-2720. 2 nmol/l per 120 min). Similarly, GLU and AVP had an additive effect on ACTH (825.6+/-139.6 pmol/l per 120 min, P<0.02) and an effect less than additive on cortisol levels (33059.2+/-1965.3 nmol/l per 120 min). The effects of GLU co-administered with hCRH or AVP were similar to those of the combined administration of hCRH and AVP on ACTH (906. 0+/-152.7 pmol/l per 120 min) and cortisol (34383.5+/-1669.2 nmol/l per 120min) levels. The GH response to GLU was not modified by hCRH or AVP. CONCLUSIONS: These results show that i.m. glucagon administration is a provocative stimulus of ACTH and cortisol secretion, at least as potent as hCRH and AVP. The ACTH-releasing effect of i.m. glucagon is not mediated by selective CRH or AVP stimulation but the possibility that both neurohormones play a role could be hypothesized.

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F Broglio, A Benso, C Gottero, G Muccioli, R Deghenghi, E Ghigo and E Arvat

OBJECTIVE: Peptidyl and non-peptidyl synthetic GH secretagogues (GHS) possess significant GH-, prolactin (PRL)- and ACTH/cortisol-releasing activity after i.v. and even p.o. administration, acting via specific hypothalamo-pituitary receptors in both animals and humans. The hexapeptide hexarelin (HEX) is a paradigmatic GHS whose activities have been widely studied in humans. The heptapeptide Ala-His-d-2-methyl-Trp-Ala-Trp-d-Phe-Lys-NH(2) (alexamorelin, ALEX) is a new synthetic molecule which inhibits GHS binding in vitro, but its endocrine activity has never been studied in humans. DESIGN: In six young adults we studied the effects of 1.0 and 2.0 microgram/kg i.v. ALEX or HEX on GH, PRL, ACTH, cortisol and aldosterone levels and those of 20mg p.o. ( approximately 300 microgram/kg) on GH levels. RESULTS: Basal GH, PRL, ACTH, cortisol and aldosterone levels in all testing sessions were similar. ALEX and HEX (1.0 and 2.0 microgram/kg i.v.) induced the same dose-dependent increase of GH and PRL levels. Both ALEX and HEX induced a dose-dependent increase of ACTH and cortisol levels. The ACTH and cortisol responses to the highest ALEX dose were significantly higher than those after HEX. Aldosterone levels significantly increased after both i.v. ALEX doses, but not after HEX. The GH response to 20mg p.o. ALEX was higher, though not significantly, than that to the same HEX dose. CONCLUSION: ALEX, a new GHS, shows the same GH-releasing activity as HEX. On the other hand, ALEX seems endowed with an ACTH-releasing activity more marked than that of HEX; this evidence could explain the significant increase of aldosterone levels after its i.v. administration.

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M Maccario, JD Veldhuis, F Broglio, LD Vito, E Arvat, R Deghenghi and E Ghigo

OBJECTIVE: To extend the insights on the action of GH secretagogues (GHS) on pituitary function, we studied the impact of intermittent daily s.c. administration of a peptidyl GHS, hexarelin (HEX), on 24-h GH, PRL, ACTH and cortisol release in healthy volunteers. DESIGN: We investigated the impact of two or three times daily s.c. administration of a short-acting peptidyl GHS, the hexapeptide HEX (1.5 microg/kg) on 24-h GH, PRL, ACTH and cortisol secretion (sampling every 20 min) in six normal young men. To monitor possible down-regulation, the effect of 1 microg/kg i.v. HEX at the end of each 24-h sampling period was studied. METHODS: Multi-parameter deconvolution analysis was used to quantitate pulsatile GH, PRL, ACTH and cortisol secretion and estimate the corresponding hormone half-lives. Complementary to deconvolution analysis, approximate entropy was used as a scale- and model-independent statistic to quantify the serial orderliness or pattern regularity of hormone measurements. RESULTS: Mean and integrated (24-h) serum GH concentrations were increased from baseline values to the same extent by two and three HEX injections. Both HEX schedules equally increased GH secretory burst mass (but not burst frequency), mean daily GH production rate, GH half-life and irregularity of GH release patterns. No change occurred in the secretion of IGF-I, PRL, ACTH and cortisol. Intravenous HEX at the end of each spontaneous 24-h profile induced a significant rise in GH, PRL, ACTH and cortisol. Prior HEX administration blunted the GH response, abolished that of ACTH and cortisol and did not modify the PRL increase. CONCLUSIONS: The study showed that two or three daily s.c. injections of HEX augmented 24-h GH secretion equally, amplifying selectively GH secretory pulse mass without altering lactotroph and corticotroph secretion. IGF-I levels were not modified by these 1-day HEX treatment schedules.

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E Arvat, B Maccagno, J Ramunni, R Giordano, F Broglio, L Gianotti, M Maccario, F Camanni and E Ghigo

OBJECTIVE: Glucagon administration stimulates both somatotroph and corticotroph secretion in humans, although this happens only if glucagon is administered by the intramuscular route and not by the intravenous route. On the other hand, GH secretagogues (GHS) strongly stimulate GH and also possess ACTH-releasing activity. DESIGN AND METHODS: To clarify the mechanisms underlying the stimulatory effects of both glucagon and GHS on somatotroph and corticotroph secretion, we studied the GH, ACTH and cortisol responses to glucagon (GLU, 0.017 mg/kg i.m.) and Hexarelin, a peptidyl GHS (HEX, 2.0 microg/kg i.v.) given alone or in combination in 6 normal young volunteers (females, aged 26-32 years, body mass index 19.7-22.5 kg/m). RESULTS: GLU administration elicited a clear increase in GH (peak vs baseline, mean+/-S.E.M.: 11.6+/-3.4 vs 3. 3+/-0.7 microg/l, P<0.02), ACTH (11.6+/-3.3 vs 4.1+/-0.3 pmol/l, P<0. 02) and cortisol (613.5+/-65.6 vs 436.9+/-19.3 nmol/l, P<0.05) levels. HEX induced a marked increase in GH levels (55.7+/-19.8 vs 3. 7+/-1.9 microg/l, P<0.005) and also significant ACTH (5.7+/-1.1 vs 3. 4+/-0.6 pmol/l, P<0.01) and cortisol (400.2+/-31.4 vs 363.4+/-32.2 nmol/l, P<0.05) responses. The GH area under the curve (AUC) after HEX was clearly higher than after GLU (1637.3+/-494.0 vs 479.1+/-115. 7 microg/l/120 min, P<0.04) while HEX and GLU coadministration had a true synergistic effect on GH release (3243.8+/-687.5 microg/l/120 min, P<0.02). The ACTH and cortisol AUCs after HEX were lower (P<0. 02) than those after GLU (208.3+/-41.3 vs 426.3+/-80.9 pmol/l/120 min and 18 874.5+/-1626.1 vs 28 338.5+/-2430.7 nmol/l/120 min respectively). The combined administration of HEX and GLU had an effect which was less than additive on both ACTH (564.02+/-76.5 pmol/l/120 min) and cortisol (35 424.6+/-5548.1 nmol/l/120 min) secretion. CONCLUSIONS: These results show that the intramuscular administration of glucagon releases less GH but more ACTH and cortisol than Hexarelin. The combined administration of glucagon and Hexarelin has a true synergistic effect on somatotroph secretion but a less than additive effect on corticotroph secretion; these findings suggest that these stimuli act via different mechanisms to stimulate somatotrophs while they could have a common action on the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis.

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R Giordano, A Picu, L Bonelli, F Broglio, F Prodam, S Grottoli, G Muccioli, E Ghigo and E Arvat

Object: Somatostatin (SS) is known to inhibit GH and insulin, while its effect on corticotrope secretion is controversial: inhibition of ACTH secretion by agonists activating somatostatinergic receptors (sst)-2 and sst-5 was reported in vitro. Cortistatin (CST) not only binds all sst receptor subtypes but also possesses central actions that are not shared by SS.

Design: In nine patients with Cushing’s disease (CD), ACTH, cortisol, GH, insulin, and glucose levels were studied during 120-min i.v. infusion of SS-14 (2.0 μg/kg per h), CST-17 (2.0 μg/kg per h) or saline.

Results: Both SS or CST significantly affected the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis. Cortisol was decreased to the same extent by either SS or CST (P < 0.05). Both SS and CST decreased ACTH, although statistical difference was reached only during CST (P < 0.05). Analyzing the individual responses as Δareas under curve (ΔAUCs), a clear and consensual inhibition of ACTH and cortisol under either SS or CST was recorded in five out of nine patients. Both SS or CST inhibited (P < 0.05) insulin, that even showed a rebound (P < 0.01) at the end of infusion. GH was not modified by either peptide.

Conclusion: SS and CST often display similar inhibitory effects on the HPA axis in CD. The activation of sst receptors by both peptides is followed in almost 50% of patients by a remarkable inhibition of ACTH and cortisol hypersecretion. These findings reinforce the view that sst receptors are involved in the control of the secretory activity of tumoral corticotropic cells.

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E Arvat, J Ramunni, J Bellone, L Di Vito, C Baffoni, F Broglio, R Deghenghi, E Bartolotta and E Ghigo

Hexarelin (HEX) is a synthetic growth hormone-releasing peptide (GHRP) which acts on specific receptors at both the pituitary and the hypothalamic level to stimulate GH release in an age-dependent manner. Like other GHRPs, HEX possesses also prolactin (PRL) and ACTH/cortisol-releasing activity. similar to that of human corticotropin-releasing hormone (hCRH). The mechanisms underlying the stimulatory effect of GHRPs on lactotrope and corticotrope secretion are even less clear and the influence of age on these endocrine activities of GHRPs is unknown. To clarify this point we studied the GH, PRL, ACTH and cortisol responses to the maximal effective dose of HEX (2.0 micrograms/kg i.v.) in: 12 prepubertal children (Pre-C, 8 male, 4 female, age 5.8-12.1 years); 12 pubertal normal short children (Pub-C, 5 male, 7 female, age 9.7-15.5 years, pubertal stage II-IV); 20 normal young adults (Young, 6 males, 14 females, age 23-32 years); and in 16 normal elderly people (Elderly, 5 male, 11 female, age 66-81 years). The GH response to HEX was clear in Pre-C (0-120 min area under curve, mean +/- S.E.M. 769.5 +/- 122.2 micrograms*min/l) but strikingly increased (P < 0.001) in Pub-C (1960.2 +/- 283.5 micrograms*min/l). The HEX-induced GH rise in Young (1829.7 +/- 243.1 micrograms*min/l) persisted similar to that in Pub-C, but decreased in Elderly (951.1 +/- 232.9 micrograms*min/I, P < 0.005); the latter was, in turn, similar to that in Pre-C. HEX induced a significant PRL increase which, however, showed no age-related variations, being similar in Pre-C (512.1 +/- 88.0 micrograms*min/l), Pub-C (584.0 +/- 106.0 micrograms*min/l), Young (554.9 +/- 56.0 micrograms*min/l) and Elderly (523.9 +/- 59.6 micrograms*min/l). The ACTH-releasing activity of HEX was present in Pre-C (1356.6 +/- 204.9 pg*min/ml) and was clearly enhanced (P < 0.02) in Pub-C (2253.5 +/- 242.8 pg*min/ml). The ACTH rise after HEX in Young (1258.1 +/- 141.2pg*min/ml) was lower (P < 0.02) than that in Pub-C and similar to that in Pre-C, while the ACTH response to HEX in Elderly (1786.5 +/- 340.1 pg*min/ml) showed a further trend toward increase, being similar to that in Pub-C. On the other hand, the cortisol response to HEX showed no significant age-related variations, being not different in Pre-C (7747.2 +/- 1031.6 micrograms*min/l), Pub-C (6106.0 +/- 862.9 micrograms*min/l), Young (6827.5 +/- 509.6 micrograms*min/I) and Elderly (7950.6 +/- 658.3 micrograms*min/l). In conclusion, our present data demonstrate that in humans the GH- and ACTH-releasing activities of HEX undergo different age-related variations, while its PRL-releasing activity is not dependent on age. These finding suggest that actions at different levels and/or on different receptor subtypes mediate the different age-related hormonal effects of GHRPs.

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F Broglio, A Benso, C Gottero, LD Vito, G Aimaretti, A Fubini, E Arvat, M Bobbio and E Ghigo

OBJECTIVE: Altered function of the GH/IGF-I axis in patients with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) has been reported. In fact, DCM patients show reduction of IGF-I levels, which could reflect slight peripheral GH resistance or, alternatively, reduced somatotroph secretion. Spontaneous GH secretion has been reported to be altered by some but not by other authors, whereas the GH response to GHRH, but not that to GH-releasing peptides, seems reduced in DCM patients. On the other hand, it is well known that the GH response to GHRH in humans is markedly potentiated by arginine (ARG), which probably acts via inhibition of hypothalamic somatostatin release; in fact the GHRH+ARG test is known as one of the most reliable to evaluate the maximal secretory capacity of somatotroph cells. METHODS: In order to further clarify the somatotroph function in DCM, in well-nourished patients with DCM (34 male, 4 female; age (mean+/-s.e. m.) 57.8+/-1.1 years; body mass index (BMI) 24.6+/-0.6kg/m(2); left ventricular ejection fraction 23.2+/-1.6%; New York Heart Association classification I/1, II/17, III/18, IV/2) we studied the GH response to GHRH (1.0 microgram/kg i.v.) alone or combined with ARG (0.5g/kg i.v.). The results in DCM patients were compared with those in age-matched control subjects (CS) (39 male, 7 female; age 58.9+/-1.0 years; BMI 23.2+/-0.3kg/m(2)). RESULTS: Mean IGF-I levels in DCM patients were lower than in CS (144.3+/-6.9 vs 175.1+/-8. 4 microgram/l, P<0.05) whereas basal GH levels were similar in both groups (1.7+/-0.3 vs 1.7+/-0.3 microgram/l). The GH response to GHRH in DCM patients was lower (P<0.05) than that in CS (GH peak 6.5+/-1.2 vs 10.7+/-2.1 microgram/l). In both groups the GH response to GHRH+ARG was higher (P<0.001) than that to GHRH alone. However, the GH response to GHRH+ARG in DCM patients remained clearly lower (P<0.01) than that in CS (18.3+/-3.2 vs 34.1+/-4.6 microgram/l). The GH response to GHRH alone and combined with ARG was not associated with the severity of the disease. CONCLUSION: DCM patients show blunted GH responses to GHRH both alone and combined with ARG. Evidence that ARG does not restore the GH response to GHRH in DCM patients makes it unlikely that the somatotroph hyporesponsiveness to the neurohormone reflects hyperactivity of hypothalamic somatostatinergic neurons.

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FM van der Toorn, JA Janssen, WW de Herder, F Broglio, E Ghigo and AJ van der Lely

INTRODUCTION: In an animal model of acromegaly (PEPCK-hGH transgenic mice), low systemic levels of ghrelin have been observed compared with normal mice. We hypothesized that systemic circulating ghrelin levels are also decreased in humans with active acromegaly and that the contribution of central ghrelin production to systemic ghrelin levels is minimal. OBJECTIVES: The aim of the present study was to investigate, in two subjects with active acromegaly, whether there are differences between systemic ghrelin levels and ghrelin concentrations in the petrosal sinus. DESIGN: We measured systemic and central ghrelin levels in these two acromegalic patients by bilateral simultaneous inferior petrosal sinus sampling. Central and systemic blood samples were drawn before and 1, 5, 10, 15 and 20 min after stimulation with GH-releasing hormone (GHRH). Ghrelin was measured with a commercially available radioimmunoassay. RESULTS: In one acromegalic subject, the baseline systemic and central ghrelin levels were within the same range as in two non-acromegalic obese subjects. No gradient could be observed between central and systemic ghrelin concentrations. Stimulation with GHRH did not change the ghrelin concentrations in this patient. In the other acromegalic subject, the systemic ghrelin levels were also in the same range as in two non-acromegalic obese subjects. However, in this subject, baseline ghrelin concentrations in the right inferior petrosal vein were considerably lower than the systemic ghrelin concentrations, indicating a peripheral over central gradient. Administration of GHRH induced a significant rise in central ghrelin concentrations in the right inferior petrosal vein. Ghrelin levels in the left inferior petrosal vein and systemic ghrelin levels were in the normal range and GHRH stimulation did not change these concentrations. CONCLUSIONS: The absence of a central over peripheral ghrelin gradient in these two acromegalics indicated that circulating ghrelin is mainly produced peripherally. Circulating systemic ghrelin levels were not decreased in these two subjects with active acromegaly.

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D Vivenza, A Rapa, N Castellino, S Bellone, A Petri, G Vacca, G Aimaretti, F Broglio and G Bona

BACKGROUND: Previous investigations on the ghrelin gene reported three common polymorphisms (Arg51Gln, Leu72Met, and Gln90Leu), but their role in overweight and obese individuals remains to be clarified. OBJECTIVE: To ascertain whether these genetic variants could influence ghrelin secretion and play a part in predisposing to earlier onset of obesity or in modulating the overweight phenotype in childhood. DESIGN AND METHODS: Mutational analysis of the entire ghrelin gene and total and acylated plasma determinations were performed in 81 obese or overweight children and adolescents (46 were obese and 35 overweight: Ob/Ow). We also recruited 168 normal-weight healthy controls (72 young adults and 96 children) for mutational or plasma ghrelin analysis. RESULTS: Median total and acylated plasma ghrelin concentrations were significantly lower in Ob/Ow individuals than in controls (175 pg/ml compared with 345 pg/ml, P<0.0001, and 95 pg/ml compared with 114 pg/ml, P<0.0001, respectively). The ghrelin gene variants showed similar allele frequencies in the Ob/Ow individuals and in controls; in the former, they were not associated with any change in total and acylated circulating ghrelin concentrations or anthropometric data. The Leu72Met status was associated with a positive family history for obesity (75% for Leu72Met compared with 39% for Leu72Leu, P=0.03) and with a greater percentage of newborns born 'large for gestational age' (33% for Leu72Met compared with 5% for Leu72Leu, P=0.03), but in the control group it was related to a lower mean body mass index z-score (-0.03 for Leu72Met and -0.47 for Leu72Leu, P=0.04). CONCLUSION: Our present findings do not support the hypothesis that the ghrelin gene polymorphisms have a relevant impact in the secretion of total and acylated ghrelin.