Deletion of ghrelin alters tryptophan metabolism and exacerbates experimental ulcerative colitis in aged mice. Academic Article uri icon


  • A major component of aging is chronic, low-grade inflammation, attributable in part by impaired gut barrier function. We previously reported that deletion of ghrelin, a peptidergic hormone released mainly from the gut, exacerbates experimental muscle atrophy in aged mice. In addition, ghrelin has been shown to ameliorate colitis in experimental models of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), although the role of endogenous ghrelin in host-microbe interactions is less clear. Here, we showed that 22-month-old global ghrelin knockout (Ghrl-/-) mice exhibited significantly increased depressive-like behaviors, while anxiety levels and working memory were similar to littermate wild-type (WT) mice. Furthermore, old Ghrl-/- mice showed significantly increased intestinal permeability to fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC)-dextran, significantly higher colonic interleukin (IL-1) levels, and trends for higher colonic IL-6 and tumor necrosis factor- (TNF-) compared to WT mice. Interestingly, young Ghrl-/- and WT mice showed comparable depressive-like behavior and gut permeability, suggesting age-dependent exacerbation in gut barrier dysfunction in Ghrl-/- mice. While fecal short-chain fatty acids levels were comparable between old Ghrl-/- and WT mice, serum metabolome revealed alterations in metabolic cascades including tryptophan metabolism. Specifically, tryptophan and its microbial derivatives indole-3-acetic acid and indole-3-lactic acid were significantly reduced in old Ghrl-/-mice. Furthermore, in an experimental model of dextran sulfate sodium (DSS)-induced colitis, Ghrl-/- mice showed exacerbated disease symptoms, and higher levels of chemoattractant and pro-inflammatory cytokines in the colon. Overall, these data demonstrated that ghrelin deficiency is associated with gut barrier dysfunction, alterations in microbially derived tryptophan metabolites, and increased susceptibility to colitis. These data suggested that endogenous ghrelin contributes to maintaining a healthy host-microbe environment, ultimately impacting on brain function.

published proceedings

  • Exp Biol Med (Maywood)

author list (cited authors)

  • Tuchaai, E., Endres, V., Jones, B., Shankar, S., Klemashevich, C., Sun, Y., & Wu, C.

citation count

  • 3

complete list of authors

  • Tuchaai, Ellie||Endres, Valerie||Jones, Brock||Shankar, Smriti||Klemashevich, Cory||Sun, Yuxiang||Wu, Chia-Shan

publication date

  • September 2022