Ghrelin is neuroprotective in Parkinson's disease: molecular mechanisms of metabolic neuroprotection

Jacqueline A Bayliss, Zane B Andrews
Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Metabolism 2013, 4 (1): 25-36
Ghrelin is a circulating orexigenic signal that rises with prolonged fasting and falls postprandially. Ghrelin regulates energy homeostasis by stimulating appetite and body weight; however, it also has many nonmetabolic functions including enhanced learning and memory, anxiolytic effects as well as being neuroprotective. In Parkinson's disease, ghrelin enhances dopaminergic survival via reduced microglial and caspase activation and improved mitochondrial function. As mitochondrial dysfunction contributes to Parkinson's disease, any agent that enhances mitochondrial function could be a potential therapeutic target. We propose that ghrelin provides neuroprotective effects via AMPK (5' adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase) activation and enhanced mitophagy (removal of damaged mitochondria) to ultimately enhance mitochondrial bioenergetics. AMPK activation shifts energy balance from a negative to a neutral state and has a role in regulating mitochondrial biogenesis and reducing reactive oxygen species production. Mitophagy is important in Parkinson's disease because damaged mitochondria produce reactive oxygen species resulting in damage to intracellular proteins, lipids and DNA predisposing them to neurodegeneration. Many genetic mutations linked to Parkinson's disease are due to abnormal mitochondrial function and mitophagy, for example LRRK2, PINK1 and Parkin. An interaction between ghrelin and these classic Parkinson's disease markers has not been observed, however by enhancing mitochondrial function, ghrelin or AMPK is a potential therapeutic target for slowing the progression of Parkinson's disease symptoms, both motor and nonmotor.

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