Acylated ghrelin concentrations are markedly decreased during pregnancy in mothers with and without gestational diabetes: Relationship with cholinesterase

Elaine Tham, Jianhua Liu, Sheila Innis, David Thompson, Bruce D. Gaylinn, Roberto Bogarin, Alon Haim, Michael O. Thorner, Jean Pierre Chanoine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Acylated (octanoylated) ghrelin stimulates food intake and growth hormone secretion and is deacylated into desacyl ghrelin by butyrylcholinesterase. Acylated and desacyl ghrelin both promote adipogenesis. Ghrelin concentrations decrease with hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinism. We hypothesized that 1) acylated ghrelin increases during pregnancy, contributing positively to energy balance, but is lower in women with gestational diabetes and 2) butyrylcholinesterase activity is inversely correlated with acylated ghrelin concentrations. In a first group of subjects, using two-site sandwich ghrelin assays that specifically detect full-length forms, we investigated women with and without gestational diabetes (n = 14/group) during pregnancy and after delivery. We examined whether changes in ghrelin during a test meal were correlated with changes in pituitary growth hormone [assessed through calculation of the area under the curve (AUC) during the test meal]. In postpartum subjects, the percent of total ghrelin that is acylated was four to five times higher than previously observed using single antibody assays. During pregnancy, acylated ghrelin concentrations (mean ± SE) were lower compared with the postpartum period throughout the meal (AUC 1.2 ± 0.2 vs. 10.2 ± 1.9 ng·ml-1·90 min-1, P < 0.001). In the postpartum, acylated ghrelin and growth hormone were positively correlated (r = 0.50, P = 0.007). Desacyl (but not acylated) ghrelin was increased in subjects with gestational diabetes during and after pregnancy (AUC 15.4 ± 1.9 vs. 8.6 ± 1.2 ng·ml-1·90 min-1, P = 0.005). In a second group of subjects (n = 13), acylated ghrelin was similarly suppressed during pregnancy. Circulating octanoate concentrations (3.1 ± 0.5 vs. 4.5 ± 0.6 μg/ml, P = 0.029) and cholinesterase activity (705 ± 33 vs. 1,013 ± 56 U/ml, P < 0.001) were lower during pregnancy compared with the postpartum period. In conclusion, acylated ghrelin markedly decreases during pregnancy, likely because of a decrease in the acylation process. Desacyl ghrelin increases in gestational diabetes, possibly reflecting resistance to the inhibitory effect of insulin on ghrelin secretion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E1093-E1100
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 May 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Cholinesterase
  • Desacyl ghrelin
  • Insulin
  • Octanoate
  • Pituitary growth hormone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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