Prolonged fasting is associated with a downregulation of the hypothalamo-pituitary thyroid (H-P-T) axis, which is reversed by administration of leptin. The hypothalamic melanocortin system regulates energy balance and mediates a number of central effects of leptin. In this study, we show that hypothalamic melanocortins can stimulate the thyroid axis and that their antagonist, agouti-related peptide (Agrp), can inhibit it. Intracerebroventricular (ICV) administration of Agrp (83-132) decreased plasma thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) in fed male rats. Intraparaventricular nuclear administration of Agrp (83-132) produced a long-lasting suppression of plasma TSH, and plasma T4. ICV administration of a stable alpha-MSH analogue increased plasma TSH in 24-hour-fasted rats. In vitro, alpha-MSH increased thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH) release from hypothalamic explants. Agrp (83-132) alone caused no change in TRH release but antagonized the effect of alpha-MSH on TRH release. Leptin increased TRH release from hypothalami harvested from 48-hour-fasted rats. Agrp (83-132) blocked this effect. These data suggest a role for the hypothalamic melanocortin system in the fasting-induced suppression of the H-P-T axis.