GHRH stimulates GH secretion from somatotroph cells of the anterior pituitary via a pathway that involves GHRH receptor activation of adenylyl cyclase and increased cAMP production. The actions of GHRH to release GH can be augmented by the synthetic GH secretagogues (GHS), which bind to a distinct G protein-coupled receptor to activate phospholipase C and increase production of the second messengers calcium and diacylglycerol. The stomach peptide ghrelin represents an endogenous ligand for the GHS receptor, which does not activate the cAMP signaling pathway. This study investigates the effects of GHS and ghrelin on GHRH-induced cAMP production in a homogenous population of cells expressing the cloned GHRH and GHS receptors. Each epitope-tagged receptor was shown to be appropriately expressed and to functionally couple to its respective second messenger pathway in this heterologous cell system. Although activation of the GHS receptor alone had no effect on cAMP production, coactivation of the GHS and GHRH receptors produced a cAMP response approximately twice that observed after activation of the GHRH receptor alone. This potentiated response is dose dependent with respect to both GHRH and GHS, is dependent on the expression of both receptors, and was observed with a variety of peptide and nonpeptide GHS compounds as well as with ghrelin-(1-5). Pharmacological inhibition of signaling molecules associated with GHS receptor activation, including G protein βγ-subunits, phospholipase C, and protein kinase C, had no effect on GHS potentiation of GHRH-induced cAMP production. Importantly, the potentiation appears to be selective for the GHRH receptor. Treatment of cells with the pharmacological agent forskolin elevated cAMP levels, but these levels were not further increased by GHS receptor activation. Similarly, activation of two receptors homologous to the GHRH receptor, the vasoactive intestinal peptide and secretin receptors, increased cAMP levels, but these levels were not further increased by GHS receptor activation. Based on these findings, we speculate that direct interactions between the GHRH and GHS receptors may explain the observed effects on signal transduction.
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