Reduced ghrelin in endothelial cells plays important mechanistic role in aging-related impairment of angiogenesis.
Ghrelin, a hormone produced mainly by gastric mucosal cells stimulates growth hormone (GH) release. Ghrelin is also expressed in the endothelial cells of blood vessels suggesting its physiological role and a function in these cells. We recently demonstrated that ghrelin induces angiogenesis--new capillary blood vessel formation- in neonatal human microvascular endothelial cells (HMVECs). Angiogenesis is impaired in aging individuals both in vitro and in vivo, but the precise mechanism(s) of this phenomenon is unknown. We examined whether HMVECs derived from aging individuals (66 years and 90 years old), 66-HMVECs and 90-HMVECs have reduced ghrelin levels vs. neonatal (Neo) HMVECs and whether treatment with exogenous ghrelin can restore impaired in vitro angiogenesis on matrigel in aged HMVECs. Ghrelin levels were reduced in the aged HMVECs by 3.2-fold (p<0.05) compared to Neo-HMVECs. Angiogenesis was significantly decreased in the aged 66- and 90-HMVECs by 39.7% (p = 0.003) and 62.4% (p = 0.003), respectively compared to Neo-HMVECs. Treatment with exogenous ghrelin significantly reversed impaired angiogenesis in aged HMVECs with the EC(50) 0.05 nM. Ghrelin induced angiogenesis in Neo-HMVECs mainly through ERK2 activation. This study is the first demonstration that reduced ghrelin is one of the factors responsible for aging-related impairment of angiogenesis.