Role of central melanocortin signaling in eating disorders

Psychopharmacol Bull. Autumn 2001;35(4):45-65.


Melanocortins are derived from posttranslational processing of the precursor protein pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC). The central melanocortinergic system consists of endogenous agonist alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone, the naturally occurring antagonist Agouti-related protein (AGRP), and two melanocortin receptors (MC3R, MC4R). Activation of central melanocortin receptors inhibits feeding and leads to weight loss, whereas blockade of the central melanocortin signaling pathway increases food consumption and promotes weight gain. This review will focus on the role of central melanocortin signaling in eating behavior and will evaluate studies of the neural pathways of POMC and AGRP systems, the effects of the central melanocortinergic system on food intake and body weight, and the regulation of hypothalamic POMC and AGRP neurons in response to altered feeding state and energy balance. In addition, this review will explore what is known about the interplay between the central melanocortinergic system and peripheral signals of energy homeostasis, i.e., leptin and glucocorticoids. Furthermore, evidence will be presented that genetic defects within the melanocortin signaling system are involved in determining susceptibility to obesity and anorexia in humans, and the therapeutic potential of melanocortin agonists and antagonists in the treatment of these disorders will be discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism
  • Central Nervous System / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / drug effects
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / genetics
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Melanocyte-Stimulating Hormones / genetics
  • Melanocyte-Stimulating Hormones / physiology*
  • Peripheral Nervous System / metabolism
  • Peripheral Nervous System / physiology
  • Receptors, Corticotropin / physiology
  • Receptors, Melanocortin
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Receptors, Corticotropin
  • Receptors, Melanocortin
  • Melanocyte-Stimulating Hormones