Chronic alcohol exposure alters circulating insulin and ghrelin levels: Role of ghrelin in hepatic steatosis

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4 Scopus citations


Fatty liver is the earliest response of the liver to excessive ethanol consumption. Central in the development of alcoholic steatosis is increased mobilization of nonesterified free fatty acids (NEFAs) to the liver from the adipose tissue. In this study, we hypothesized that ethanol-induced increase in ghrelin by impairing insulin secretion, could be responsible for the altered lipid metabolism observed in adipose and liver tissue. Male Wistar rats were fed for 5– 8 wk with control or ethanol Lieber-DeCarli diet, followed by biochemical analyses in serum and liver tissues. In addition, in vitro studies were conducted on pancreatic islets isolated from experimental rats. We found that ethanol increased serum ghrelin and decreased serum insulin levels in both fed and fasting conditions. These results were corroborated by our observations of a significant accumulation of insulin in pancreatic islets of ethanol-fed rats, indicating that its secretion was impaired. Furthermore, ethanol-induced reduction in circulating insulin was associated with lower adipose weight and increased NEFA levels observed in these rats. Additionally, we found that increased concentration of serum ghrelin was due to increased synthesis and maturation in the stomach of the ethanol-fed rats. We also report that in addition to its effect on the pancreas, ghrelin can also directly act on hepatocytes via the ghrelin receptors and promote fat accumulation. In conclusion, alcohol-induced elevation of circulating ghrelin levels impairs insulin secretion. Consequently, reduced circulating insulin levels likely contribute to increased free fatty acid mobilization from adipose tissue to liver, thereby contributing to hepatic steatosis. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Our studies are the first to report that ethanol-induced increases in ghrelin contribute to impaired insulin secretion, which results in the altered lipid metabolism observed in adipose and liver tissue in the setting of alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)G453-G461
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2019



  • Adipose tissue
  • Alcoholic fatty liver
  • Ghrelin
  • Insulin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Hepatology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Physiology (medical)

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