Elderly individuals frequently report cognitive decline, while various studies indicate hippocampal functional declines with advancing age. Hippocampal function is influenced by ghrelin through hippocampus-expressed growth hormone secretagogue receptor (GHSR). Liver-expressed antimicrobial peptide 2 (LEAP2) is an endogenous GHSR antagonist that attenuates ghrelin signaling. Here, we measured plasma ghrelin and LEAP2 levels in a cohort of cognitively normal individuals older than 60 and found that LEAP2 increased with age while ghrelin (also referred to in literature as “acyl-ghrelin”) marginally declined. In this cohort, plasma LEAP2/ghrelin molar ratios were inversely associated with Mini-Mental State Examination scores. Studies in mice showed an age-dependent inverse relationship between plasma LEAP2/ghrelin molar ratio and hippocampal lesions. In aged mice, restoration of the LEAP2/ghrelin balance to youth-associated levels with lentiviral shRNA Leap2 downregulation improved cognitive performance and mitigated various age-related hippocampal deficiencies such as CA1 region synaptic loss, declines in neurogenesis, and neuroinflammation. Our data collectively suggest that LEAP2/ghrelin molar ratio elevation may adversely affect hippocampal function and, consequently, cognitive performance; thus, it may serve as a biomarker of age-related cognitive decline. Moreover, targeting LEAP2 and ghrelin in a manner that lowers the plasma LEAP2/ghrelin molar ratio could benefit cognitive performance in elderly individuals for rejuvenation of memory.


Jing Tian, Lan Guo, Tienju Wang, Kun Jia, Russell H. Swerdlow, Jeffrey M. Zigman, Heng Du


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