In vitro mutagenesis of the mouse melanocortin-4 receptor (mMC4R) has been performed, based upon homology molecular modeling and previous melanocortin receptor mutagenesis studies that identified putative ligand-receptor interactions. Twenty-three mMC4 receptor mutants were generated and pharmacologically characterized using several melanocortin-based ligands [alpha-MSH, NDP-MSH, MTII, DNal (1')(7)-MTII, Nal(2')(7)-MTII, SHU9119, and SHU9005]. Selected mutant receptors possessing significant differences in the melanocortin-based peptide agonist and/or antagonist pharmacology were further evaluated using the endogenous antagonist agouti-related protein fragment hAGRP(83-132) and hAGRP(109-118) molecules. These studies of the mouse MC4R provide further experimental data suggesting that the conserved melanocortin receptor residues Glu92 (TM2), Asp114 (TM3), and Asp118 (TM3) (mouse MC4R numbering) are important for melanocortin-based peptide molecular recognition. Additionally, the Glu92 and Asp118 mMC4R residues are important for molecular recognition and binding of AGRP(83-132). We have identified the Phe176 (TM4), Tyr179 (TM4), Phe254 (TM6), and Phe259 (TM6) receptor residues as putatively interacting with the melanocortin-based ligand Phe(7) by differences between alpha-MSH and NDP-MSH agonist potencies. The Glu92, Asp118, and Phe253 mMC4R receptor residues appear to be critical for hAGRP(83-132) molecular recognition and binding while Phe176 appears to be important for functional antagonism of AGRP(83-132) and AGRP(109-118) but not molecular recognition. The Phe253 mMC4R residue appears to be important for AGRP(83-132) molecular recognition and general mMC4 receptor stimulation. The Phe254 and Phe259 mMC4R amino acids may participate in the differentiation of agonist versus antagonist activity of the melanocortin-based peptide antagonists SHU9119 and SHU9005, but not AGRP(83-132) or AGRP(109-118). The Met192 side chain when mutated to a Phe results in a constitutively active mMC4R that does not effect agonist ligand binding or potency. Melanocortin-based peptides modified at the 7 position of MTII with DPhe, DNal(1'), Nal(2'), and DNal(2') have been pharmacologically characterized at these mutant mouse MC4Rs. These data suggest a revised hypothesis for the mechanism of SHU9119 antagonism at the MC4R which may be attributed to the presence of a "bulky" naphthyl moiety at the 7 position (original hypothesis), and additionally that both the stereochemistry and naphthyl ring position (2' versus 1') are important for positioning of the ligand Arg(8) residue with the corresponding mMC4R amino acids.