Ghrelin as a Stress Hormone: Implications for Psychiatric Illness

Lauren A. Stone, Elia S. Harmatz, Ki A. Goosens

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


The stress response is an adaptive means of maintaining physiological homeostasis in the face of changing environmental conditions. However, protracted recruitment of stress systems can precipitate wear and tear on the body and may lead to many forms of disease. The mechanisms underlying the connection between chronic stress and disease are not fully understood and are likely multifactorial. In this review, we evaluate the possibility that the hormone ghrelin may contribute to the pathophysiology that follows chronic stress. Since ghrelin was discovered as a pro-hunger hormone, many additional roles for it have been identified, including in learning, memory, reward, and stress. We describe the beneficial effects that ghrelin exerts in healthy mammals and discuss that prolonged exposure to ghrelin has been linked to maladaptive responses and behaviors in the realm of psychiatric disease. In addition, we consider whether chronic stress–associated altered ghrelin signaling may enhance susceptibility to posttraumatic stress disorder and comorbid conditions such as major depressive disorder and alcohol use disorder. Finally, we explore the possibility that ghrelin-based therapeutics could eventually form the basis of a treatment strategy for illnesses that are linked to chronic stress and potentially also ghrelin dysregulation, and we identify critical avenues for future research in this regard.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)531-540
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • Disease risk
  • Ghrelin
  • Human
  • Metabolism
  • Resistance
  • Stress


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