Glucagon secretion is stimulated by fasting and inhibited postprandially, a pattern that mimics the secretory profiles of both ghrelin and GH. We thus hypothesized that glucagon may be a determinant of the changes in circulating ghrelin and GH that occur in relation to meals. The objective of the study was to explore this hypothesis by determining the ghrelin and GH response to a bolus of glucagon or saline in healthy subjects.
Nine healthy volunteers, mean age 47 years (range 33-58) and body mass index (BMI) 24 kg/m2 (range 20.9-27.6) were recruited and received either 1 mg glucagon (n = 9) or 1 ml saline (n = 6) subcutaneously on separate days between 0800 and 0830 h after an overnight fast. Venous blood was then sampled at 15-min intervals during the first hour, followed by 30-min intervals up to 4 h for glucose, insulin, GH, cortisol, somatostatin and ghrelin.
Mean +/- SE basal ghrelin was 213.1 +/- 34.3 pmol/l and decreased significantly by 15 min after glucagon administration to 179.3 +/- 28 pmol/l (P = 0.01), then remaining suppressed relative to the basal value until 240 min after glucagon. Plasma insulin increased from a basal value of 46.7 +/- 7.7 pmol/l to a peak of 327.1 +/- 54.9 pmol/l (P < 0.0001). There was an inverse statistical relationship between the increase in insulin over the first 120 min and the decrease in ghrelin (P = 0.005), while somatostatin, GH and glucose were not significant contributors to the decrease in ghrelin (P > 0.05). Mean +/- SE basal GH was 7.3 +/- 2.9 microg/l and increased by 150 min after glucagon to a peak of 20.5 +/- 6.8 microg/l (P = 0.006). Changes in neither ghrelin nor glucose were related to the increase in GH (P = 0.7). Saline administration did not produce any significant change in ghrelin, insulin or somatostatin although the expected diurnal reduction in cortisol (P < 0.05) was observed.
Our study found no evidence that glucagon stimulates ghrelin secretion in humans and supports the hypothesis that insulin is a negative regulator of ghrelin secretion in the postprandial state. We did not find a negative relationship between endogenous somatostatin and ghrelin despite earlier reports that exogenously administered somatostatin analogues suppress plasma ghrelin. Finally, glucagon-induced GH secretion is not mediated by an increase in plasma ghrelin.