Stress and obesity: The ghrelin connection
Ghrelin is a hormone associated with feeding and energy balance. Not surprisingly, this hormone is secreted in response to acute stressors and it is chronically elevated after exposure to chronic stress in tandem with a number of metabolic changes aimed at attaining homeostatic balance. In the present review, we propose that ghrelin plays a key role in these stress-induced homeostatic processes. Ghrelin targets the hypothalamus and brain stem nuclei that are part of the sympathetic nervous system to increase appetite and energy expenditure and promote the use of carbohydrates as a source of fuel at the same time as sparing fat. Ghrelin also targets mesolimbic brain regions such as the ventral segmental area and the hippocampus to modulate reward processes, to protect against damage associated with chronic stress, as well as to potentially increase resilience to stress. In all, these data support the notion that ghrelin, similar to corticosterone, is a critical metabolic hormone that is essential for the stress response.