In the lactating rat there is a dramatic increase in food intake that peaks at around day 15 postpartum, a time when pups are near weaning age, yet still fully dependant on maternal nourishment. We examined whether the orexigenic hormone ghrelin plays a role in increasing food intake during lactation. To do this, we compared plasma levels ghrelin, as well as brain and pituitary expression of the growth hormone secretagogue receptor (GHS-R 1a) rats in one of three groups: (1) dams whose litters were removed the day after giving birth (non-lactating); (2) dams whose litters were removed on day 13 postpartum (litter removed), and dams allowed keeping their litters (lactating). On day 15 postpartum, all dams were decapitated and trunk blood collected for plasma analysis of active ghrelin levels. Also, brain and pituitaries were collected and snap frozen using liquid nitrogen and stored at -80 °C before mRNA extraction and RT-PCR analysis. Results show no differences in ghrelin concentrations between lactating and non-lactating rats. Hypothalamic and pituitary expression of GHS-R 1a, however, was significantly increased in lactating animals compared to non-lactating animals. Interestingly, litter removed dams had higher levels of plasma ghrelin concentrations than either lactating or non-lactating females. Furthermore, GHS-R mRNA expression in these animals remained elevated in the pituitary but not the hypothalamus. These data suggest that the hypothalamus and pituitary of lactating rats are more sensitive to the effects of ghrelin, and that hypothalamic sensitivity to ghrelin depends on the presence of a suckling litter.

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Keywords Energy balance, Food intake, Ghrelin, GHS-R 1a, Lactation
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Journal Neuroscience Letters
Abizaid, A, Schiavo, L. (L.), & Diano, S. (S.). (2008). Hypothalamic and pituitary expression of ghrelin receptor message is increased during lactation. Neuroscience Letters, 440(3), 206–210. doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2008.05.105