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Cholecystokinin (CCK or CCK-PZ; from Greek chole, "bile"; cysto, "sac"; kinin, "move"; hence, move the bile-sac (gallbladder)) is a peptide hormone of the gastrointestinal system responsible for stimulating the digestion of fat and protein. Cholecystokinin, previously called pancreozymin, is synthesized and secreted by enteroendocrine cells in the duodenum, the first segment of the small intestine. Its presence causes the release of digestive enzymes and bile from the pancreas and gallbladder, respectively, and also acts as a hunger suppressant.
The existence of CCK was first suggested in 1905 by the British physiologist Joy Simcha Cohen. It is a member of the gastrin/cholecystokinin family of peptide hormones and is very similar in structure to gastrin, another gastrointestinal hormone. CCK and gastrin share the same five C-terminal amino acids. CCK is composed of varying numbers of amino acids depending on post-translational modification of the 150-amino acid precursor, preprocholecystokinin. Thus, the CCK peptide hormone exists in several forms, each identified by the number of amino acids it contains, e.g., CCK58, CCK33, CCK22 and CCK8. CCK58 assumes a helix-turn-helix configuration. Biological activity resides in the C-terminus of the peptide. Most CCK peptides have a sulfate-group attached to a tyrosine located seven residues from the C-terminus. This modification is crucial for the ability of CCK to activate the cholecystokinin A receptor. Nonsulfated CCK peptides also occur, which consequently cannot activate the CCK-A receptor.
CCK plays important physiologic roles both as a neuropeptide in the central nervous system and as a peptide hormone in the gut. It participates in a number of physiological processes such as digestion, satiety and anxiety.
CCK is synthesized and released by enteroendocrine cells in the mucosal lining of the small intestine (mostly in the duodenum and jejunum), called I cells, neurons of the enteric nervous system, and neurons in the brain. It is released rapidly into the circulation in response to a meal. The greatest stimulator of CCK release is the presence of fatty acids and/or certain amino acids in the chyme entering the duodenum. In addition, release of CCK is stimulated by monitor peptide (released by pancreatic acinar cells), CCK-releasing protein (via paracrine signalling mediated by enterocytes in the gastric and intestinal mucosa), and acetylcholine (released by the parasympathetic nerve fibers of the vagus nerve).
Once in the circulatory system, CCK has a relatively short half-life.
CCK mediates digestion in the small intestine by inhibiting gastric emptying and decreasing gastric acid secretion. It stimulates the acinar cells of the pancreas to release a juice rich in pancreatic digestive enzymes (hence an alternate name, pancreozymin) that catalyze the digestion of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Thus, as the levels of the substances that stimulated the release of CCK drop, the concentration of the hormone drops as well. The release of CCK is also inhibited by somatostatin and pancreatic peptide. Trypsin, a protease released by pancreatic acinar cells, hydrolyzes CCK-releasing peptide and monitor peptide, in effect turning off the additional signals to secrete CCK.
CCK also causes the increased production of hepatic bile, and stimulates the contraction of the gall bladder and the relaxation of the sphincter of Oddi (Glisson's sphincter), resulting in the delivery of bile into the duodenal part of the small intestine. Bile salts form amphipathic lipids, micelles that emulsify fats, aiding in their digestion and absorption.
As a peptide hormone, CCK mediates satiety by acting on the CCK receptors distributed widely throughout the central nervous system. The mechanism for hunger suppression is thought to be a decrease in the rate of gastric emptying. CCK also has stimulatory effects on the vagus nerve, effects that can be inhibited by capsaicin. The stimulatory effects of CCK oppose those of ghrelin, which has been shown to inhibit the vagus nerve.
The effects of CCK vary between individuals. For example, in rats, CCK administration significantly reduces hunger in adult males, but is slightly less effective in younger subjects, and even slightly less effective in females. The hunger-suppressive effects of CCK also are reduced in obese rats.
CCK is found extensively throughout the central nervous system, with high concentrations found in the limbic system. CCK is synthesized as a 115 amino acid preprohormone, that is then converted into multiple isoforms. The predominant form of CCK in the central nervous system is the sulfated octapeptide, CCK-8S.
In both humans and rodents, studies clearly indicate that elevated CCK levels causes increased anxiety. The site of the anxiety-inducing effects of CCK seems to be central with specific targets being the basolateral amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus, peraqueductal grey, and cortical regions.
The CCK tetrapeptide fragment CCK-4 (Trp-Met-Asp-Phe-NH2) reliably causes anxiety and panic attacks (panicogenic effect) when administered to humans and is commonly used in scientific research for this purpose of in order to test new anxiolytic drugs. Positron emission tomography visualization of regional cerebral blood flow in patients undergoing CCK-4 induced panic attacks show changes in the anterior cingulate gyrus, the claustrum-insular-amygdala region, and cerebellar vermis.
Several studies have implicated CCK as a cause of visual hallucinations in Parkinson’s disease. Mutations in CCK receptors in combination with mutated CCK genes potentiate this association. These studies also uncovered potential racial/ethnic differences in the distribution of mutated CCK genes.
CCK has been shown to interact with the Cholecystokinin A receptor located mainly on pancreatic acinar cells and Cholecystokinin B receptor mostly in the brain and stomach. CCKB receptor also binds gastrin, a gastrointestinal hormone involved in stimulating gastric acid release and growth of the gastric mucosa. CCK has also been shown to interact with calcineurin in the pancreas. Calcineurin will go on to activate the transcription factors NFAT 1–3, which will stimulate hypertrophy and growth of the pancreas. CCK can be stimulated by a diet high in protein, or by protease inhibitors. CCK has been shown to interact with orexin neurons, which control appetite and wakefulness (sleep). CCK can have indirect effects on sleep regulation.
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