Effects of exogenous ghrelin administration and ghrelin receptor blockade, in combination with alcohol, on peripheral inflammatory markers in heavy-drinking individuals: Results from two human laboratory studies

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The ghrelin system has been garnering interest for its role in different neuropsychiatric disorders, including alcohol use disorder (AUD). Accordingly, targeting the ghrelin system is under investigation as a potential novel therapeutic approach. While alcohol provokes the immune system and inflammatory responses, ghrelin has potent immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties. The present study aimed to shed light on the “crosstalk” between ghrelin and inflammation by examining the effects of exogenous ghrelin administration and ghrelin receptor blockade on peripheral inflammatory markers in the context of two human laboratory studies with alcohol administration. Non-treatment-seeking, heavy-drinking individuals with alcohol dependence, the majority of whom were African American males, were enrolled. In the first randomized, crossover, double-blind, placebo-controlled human laboratory study, participants underwent two experimental paradigms – an intravenous alcohol self-administration (IV-ASA) and an intravenous alcohol clamp (IV-AC) – each consisting of two counterbalanced sessions (ghrelin, placebo). A loading dose of intravenous ghrelin (3 mcg/kg) or placebo, followed by a continuous ghrelin (16.9 ng/kg/min) or placebo infusion was administered. In the second dose-escalating, single-blind, placebo-controlled human laboratory phase 1b study, participants were dosed with an oral ghrelin receptor blocker (PF-5190457) and underwent an oral alcohol challenge. Repeated blood samples were collected, and plasma concentrations of the following inflammatory markers were measured: C-reactive protein (CRP), interleukin (IL)-6, IL-10, IL-18, and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α). During the IV-ASA experiment, significant drug × time interaction effects were observed for IL-6 (F3,36 = 3.345, p = 0.030) and IL-10 (F3,53.2 = 4.638, p = 0.006), indicating that ghrelin, compared to placebo, significantly reduced blood concentrations of the proinflammatory cytokine IL-6, while increasing blood concentrations of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10. No significant drug × time interaction effects were observed during the IV-AC experiment, possibly because of its much shorter duration and/or smaller sample. Treatment with PF-5190457, compared to placebo, had no significant effect on the inflammatory markers investigated. In conclusion, a supraphysiologic pharmacological challenge with exogenous ghrelin in heavy-drinking individuals produced anti-inflammatory effects in the context of intravenous alcohol administration. On the contrary, ghrelin receptor blockade did not lead to any change in the inflammatory markers included in this study. Mechanistic studies are required to better understand the interaction between ghrelin, alcohol, and inflammatory processes.

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Brain Research