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Research highlights

Our principal research objective is to understand the impact of gut hormones, such as ghrelin, on the neurobiological mechanisms of energy balance, hunger and reward. The ultimate goal is to discover novel mechanisms underpinning diseases of dysregulated feeding that include binging, compulsive over-eating, bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa.
Based on our recent work we believe that the physiological role of ghrelin, a gut-brain hormone, is to increase the rewarding/incentive value of both natural rewards (eg food) and artificial rewards (eg alcohol). Therefore, suppression of the central ghrelin signaling system will have beneficial effects in feeding disorders and substance use disorders.

Key findings

1993 Synthetic ghrelin analogues act in the brain – they activate hypothalamic cells (Dickson et al, 1993, Neuroscience)
1997 The target cells for ghrelin analogues include the orexigenic neuropeptide Y neurones (Dickson & Luckman, 1997, Endocrinology). 


2000 After the discovery of ghrelin, we mapped the cells activated; fasting increased ghrelin sensitivity 3 fold (Hewson & Dickson, 2000, J Neuroendocrinol)
2001 Ghrelin mimetics increase body fat (Lall et al. 2001)

2001 Ghrelin-responsive cells are also a target for leptin (Hewson et al., 2002, Diabetes).

2005 Ghrelin reverses the weight loss (especially fat loss) following gastrectomy surgery in mice (Dornondoville de la Cour, 2005).


2006 Ghrelin induces dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens (Jerlhag et al, 2006).
2009 The central ghrelin signaling system is required for alcohol reward (Jerlhag et al, 2009 PNAS).
2010 The central ghrelin signaling system has a role in food reward (Egecioglu et al., 2010) and food anticipation (Verhagen et al., 2010).

Current Interests (2011-present)

Ghrelin increases food motivation (Skibicka et al 2012) involving a direct action at the level of the VTA (Skibicka et al 2011). It also has a role in novelty-seeking behavior (Hansson et al., 2012). 2011 –Neural circuitry engaged by ghrelin for food intake and food motivated behavior: role of cholinergic (Dickson et al, 2011), NPY Y1, µ-opioid (Skibicka et al., 2012) and κ-opioid systems (Romero-Picó et al 2013).
Ghrelin alters emotional reactivity in rodents (Hansson et al, 2011). Its effects on anxiety-like behavior exerted at the level of the amygdala are linked to food availability (Alvarez-Crespo et al., 2012). We also found a possible association between panic disorder and a polymorphism in the preproghrelingene (Hansson et al., 2013).


Suzanne Dickson

Forskargruppsledare, professor

Tel: 031-786 35 68
E-post: suzanne.dickson@gu.se
Besöks- och postadresser

Sidansvarig: Annie Sundling|Sidan uppdaterades: 2015-08-13

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